Whilst not every contact sport requires a mouthguard, it is highly advised that many people who are doing a full contact sport get a mouthguard that is custom-fit for their mouth, not only to protect their teeth from being cracked or dislodged but also help to avoid other types of head injuries.
To that end, World Rugby, the international governing body for Rugby Union and Rugby Sevens, announced that they had made an initial €2m investment in smart mouthguards as part of their Head Injury Assessment protocol for diagnosing and caring for concussions.
The mouthguard, on top of the other ways in which a rugby mouthguard protects the head, also has a set of sensors and accelerometers that can detect in real-time if a player has been hit by a significant force that could potentially cause a concussion.
Mouthguards in themselves can reduce the risk of a concussion by up to a fifth, and by diagnosing a potential incident as early as possible without it being missed by referees, by camera crews or without showing immediate symptoms.
The smart mouthguard would, therefore, be a requirement for all players who are participating in elite-level competition, which started with the WXV women’s rugby union competition in October 2023 and will be part of the overall HIA protocol starting in 2024.
Elite players will be required to wear them not only during matches but also in training, which has the added effect of helping to boost training analytics and data.
The new mouthguard, as well as mandating its use at the elite levels of the sport, is part of a series of changes and adjustments at World Rugby based on the recommendations of their Concussion Working Group and leading experts such as Dr Chris Nowinski.
These include a recommendation that players wear mouthguards at all levels of the sport, an extension of concussion protocols in community-level rugby to ensure players rest their heads for at least 21 days, and a focus on reducing forces to the head that may not cause concussion symptoms.