A Smart Mouthguard Wearable That Could Save Your Life?
Protective and Smart Mouthguard
Participants in high impact sports like rugby, ice hockey, and American football know that wearing a well-made mouthguard can mean the difference between a healthy smile and a dental emergency. It’s a small but necessary piece of equipment. Additionally, with the big advancements in wearable technology over the past few years, athletes have access to all sorts of diagnostic tools that tell themselves and their coaches how the body reacts to training and exertion.
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What if these two concepts could work together to not only protect teeth, but to potentially save lives through early detection of important vital signs?
It’s a novel idea, and it’s one that’s currently being worked on: mouthguards that use saliva as a diagnostic tool to protect athletes from potentially serious complications due to overexertion.
Researchers at the University of California, San Diego are investigating. Plus, SMRT Mouth out of Richmond, Virginia already has a product that uses this technology (that’s backed by professional athletes) in the crowdfunding stage.
Diagnostic Drool: How it All Works
Bodily fluids like blood and urine have long been used to determine various health metrics, but until very recently, saliva was not used very often. Current research, however, has shown that levels of uric acid, lactate, and other biomarkers can be used to determine an individual’s fatigue and exertion and hydration levels, since the levels in the saliva usually correspond to blood levels. What’s more, this information can be delivered continuously and in real time.
What’s so useful about measuring these things using saliva is that obtaining it is non-invasive, and it’s done using a piece of equipment that many athletes wear anyway. Data can be sent to a smartphone or other BlueTooth-enabled device for analysis and sharing with coaches and medical professionals.
Of course, saliva diagnostic research is a very new field, and all of the particulars have not been fully sorted out as of yet. Plus, some researchers are hesitant to use it before the science is worked out.
A research review published in 2012 in Dental Clinics of North America concluded, “Early studies attempting to utilise saliva as a diagnostic fluid were hampered by a lack of understanding on how these biomarkers enter saliva,” adding that there was “difficulty in detecting some markers due to low levels in saliva as compared to serum” (Malamud and Rodriguez-Chavez). The article did add, however, that salivary diagnosis has been successful in some cases, and that the field should grow and improve with further research.
Still, there are many researchers who are optimistic, especially since the aforementioned review was published over three years ago. Combined with other measurements that can be gathered using a mouthguard, such as heart rate, respiration, and more, it’s likely that we’ll be seeing more than a few smart mouthguards on the market in the coming years.
Coming Soon? The SMRT Mouthguard
It looks like you’ll soon be able to get your hands on a smart mouthguard. SMRT Mouth has an Indiegogo campaign up and running, and early birds can pre-order one for $99 USD (about £64). As of now, initial supporters of SMRT Mouth will receive their device in June 2016.
While athletes are the obvious target demographic for a product like this, there are indeed other applications. Consider how they might be used among soldiers, pilots, and other individuals who may need mouth protection and who rely on high levels of stamina and performance.
The technology is still in the early stages, but if it’s perfected and made affordable, it could truly help to save lives down the road.