The greatest hockey player that ever lived, Wayne Gretzky, paraded around in a porous helmet—it's a wonder he never suffered a concussion. And football used to be played with leather helmets in days gone by.
While the Riddells and CCMs of the world have helped advance protective headwear, a company based in Truro, Nova Scotia, Canada is hoping to do the same for mouth protection with the Pure Power Mouthguard (PPM).
We all know the classic mouthguard—a piece of plastic you drop into boiling water and bite on to conform to the shape of your jaw.
The PPM takes it one step further.
Developed by Dr. Anil Makkar and trainer Chuck Sproule using a special TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Neural Stimulation) machine, an athlete's jaw is stimulated so that it is completely relaxed.
"TENS is like a mild electrical massage to the nerves that move the muscles of the face, shoulders, and neck," explained Dr. Gary Lederman, a certified New York area doctor and part owner of the company that makes the mouthguard.
"The muscles become relaxed and refreshed, making the location of the jaw's optimal position possible."
With the jaw well positioned, the athlete is ready to be fitted by a certified dentist.
"A bite is taken using jaw tracking, and EMGs [electromyograms] measure muscle activity," added Dr. Mike Bixby, who is also a part owner based in New York.
"This allows us in real-time to see where in space the jaw's best position is. Using very accurate dental impressions [molds] and this bite you are ready to have the PPM made."
According to PPM makers, having the facial muscles in complete relaxation does more than offer athletes peace of mind. It can improve posture and enhance upper body strength.
In fact, they say balance and strength can be increased upwards of 50 percent.
"Muscles hold our body upright," explained Dr. Bixby.
"In order to stand we need a certain amount of tone in the muscles. If your body is out of balance, these muscles have to work harder to hold your body. Proper bite balance has a domino effect down the spine allowing muscles to work more efficiently. This doesn't make you stronger. It allows you to use the strength you have more effectively," added Dr. Bixby.
"Additionally, with optimal alignment, there is less tension to overcome. As a result, there is an improvement in range of motion, strength, and flexibility," elaborated Dr. Lederman.
With the jaw relaxed and in alignment, posture perfect, and upper body muscles expending energy in the most efficient manner, the athlete can perform better and the mouthguard can help absorb the brunt of trauma to the jaw as well.
And that's the primary job of a mouthguard after all, says Dr. Bixby.
"The guard itself is designed to protect your teeth in an impact," he said.
"It is also designed to protect an impact in the jaw from traveling through the joint into the skull. Relaxed muscles are actually more resistant to injury. It has a better ability to flex rather than rip. The ideal combination is a relaxed muscle and material that protects the joint from impacts. The PPM does both."
One of the proponents of the equipment is former Seattle Seahawks and current St. Louis Rams kicker Josh Brown.
Brown ranked eighth in the NFL in scoring, making 82 percent of his field goals, the longest being a 54-yarder last season.
"There is really something to having structural integrity and the PPM enhances that," Brown said in a release.
"Ask any engineer, he isn't going to build a building by just throwing up pipes and beams—you want the building to have the proper strength and integrity—it is the same thing with the PPM."
"Did you ever notice how many players take out their guard after every play or chew on them?" asked Dr. Bixby.
"This is because they're not comfortable. A PPM fits very well, so athletes don't feel the need to play with them."
The price of the PPM ranges from $800-$1,600.