In early 2023, the top league of professional players in Australasia, the NRL, along with Football Australia, acknowledged before a Senate committee the link between head trauma and serious neurodegenerative disease.
Representatives from the major Australian contact sporting codes gave evidence at a hearing for the Senate inquiry into concussions and repeated head trauma in contact sports.
It was an inquiry established as the result of increasing public concern regarding the management of player head injuries by sporting organisations, and the growing body of scientific evidence connecting contact sports, and the neurodegenerative disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
CTE is a disease that can only be diagnosed post-mortem, and has been found in the brains of both amateurs and professionals.
For decades, concussion was worn as a badge of honour in combat and contact sports. The parliamentary inquiry has determined the physical, emotional, social and professional impact of the disease – often manifested as cognitive impairment such as behavioural changes, memory loss, mood disorders, anxiety and depression.
The smart mouthguard is breakthrough technology that measures the G-force of every head impact in real time, using Bluetooth to alert a qualified doctor whenever there has been player collision in a tackle or a ruck.
Debuted during the women’s international rugby union game between Italy and Japan in October 2023, it is a world first in sport using technology to immediately remove players from the field who are suspected of brain injury during play.
It will be implemented during January 2024 for men’s elite players in time for the Six Nations Championship; a tournament that’s been running since 1883.
Welsh rugby legend Ryan Jones is one of a vast number of famous players going public with their diagnoses of early onset dementia and possible CTE, amid legal action against rugby’s governing bodies.
Wales international Daffyd James is the latest former player to action legal proceedings against World Rugby, the Welsh Rugby Union and the Rugby Football Union – one of the 260 rugby union players to do so.
Lenny Woodward, currently 47 years of age, who won caps for Wales in both union and league, recently revealed that he expects to need full-time care in the next decade as a result of his brain injury diagnoses.
The Otago Community Head Impact Detection study (ORCHID) is a joint project between World Rugby, Prevent Biometrics, New Zealand Rugby, Otago Rugby and the University of Otago.
It published the first independent, peer-reviewed findings into community rugby after almost two years of pioneering research, measuring more than 17,000 separate head acceleration events, across more than 300 players from U13s to senior rugby levels.
It was a study further followed up by Ulster University, and Premier Rugby.
The smart mouthguard technology is supplied by Prevent Biometrics, a US company formed in 2015 to monitor head impact on the field, rather than in the lab.
Its Prevent Impact Monitor Mouthguard (IMM) is a sophisticated device with a patented algorithm that calculates the number, location, direction, peak linear and peak angular accelerations, as well as the force of impact events, with the ability to filter false-positive non-head contacts.
The mouthguards measures these experiences in less time than it takes to blink.
Previously, identifying on-field head impacts involved multiple video angles and machine learning – a process that took each game 12 hours to decipher.
Speed is important. Research from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center indicates that for every 15 minutes an athlete remains on the field after a concussion, their absence from the game is extended by three days because of worsening symptoms.
With the smart mouthguard, it’s done in minutes.
After the game, teams are sent a breakdown of which players got hit, and how often.
The purpose of this AI mouthguard is to reduce head collisions and drive equipment innovation.
It’s a system designed to reduce the incidence of undetected and untreated concussions by data-driving the ineffective, observational method and removing the guesswork from players needing concussion assessment.
Players returning high head contact numbers can be taught better techniques, and given position-specific helmets, with significantly more padding areas specific to better personal protection.
Its innovative design allows players to choose between custom, and boil and bite options; certified to the highest standards for both collision monitoring and dental safeguards.
Each mouthguard is charged and sanitised via integrated UV light in a player-labelled case, either powered by a USB or plugged into the Team Case that holds up to 27 of these game-changing and life changing devices.
From January 2024, these smart mouthguards will be added to the protocols for Head Injury Assessment (HIA), giving immense potential for the advancement of player safety, and performance analysis that will benefit not only individual participants and rugby codes, but contact sports as a whole.
Prices appear to be around $US240 per player and $US299 for the Team Case with a team app and web portal at no cost; rather fair play in the battle against brain injury in the pursuit of the pleasure of sport.
It used to be that good mouthguards were made by a dentist, explicitly designed and fitted to best protect teeth from an opponent’s elbows, heads, knees and feet. Now they’re created by biometrics to measure and calculate individual physical and behavioural characteristics to better protect the many vulnerabilities of the brain at times that brawn counts.
Easing up the pressure of changed neurophysiology and brain debilitation from undetected, subconcussive hits means that smart mouthguards give everybody a sporting chance.