Whilst the dental retainer is often associated with the aftercare of dental treatment or to prevent conditions such as bruxism, arguably it is most commonly used in the world of sports.
Whilst the dental mouthguard is a common and mandatory part of many contact sports in order to avoid damage to teeth and the potential consequences of having broken teeth in a sporting environment, it was not always a widely accepted part of sporting culture.
Whilst the origins of the mouthguard are somewhat shrouded in mystery given that the earliest known examples use materials such as gutta-percha that decay and disappear with age, by 1892 the dentist Woolf Krause was already fitting mouthpieces over the incisors of pugilists of the era.
This was less about protecting teeth and more about reducing the risk that these broken teeth will cut the lips and faces of the fighters. If a cut cannot be adequately controlled and is deemed to affect a boxer’s ability to fight, the match is stopped by a ringside doctor.
His son, Phillip Krause, improved the design further by replacing the gutta-percha with rubber, creating the first modern reusable mouthguard, one he was so confident in that he used it himself during his carer as an amateur boxer.
With that said, it was not always adopted without controversy. Early champion boxers such as Jack Dempsey never used a mouthpiece and one of the first championship fights with a mouthguard led to discussions about whether it provided an unfair advantage.
In the fight between Ted “Kid” Lewis and Jack Britton in 1921, the former used a gum shield and the latter’s manager argued that doing so constituted an unfair advantage.
However, by 1927, opinions had started to change completely. In a fight between Mike McTiguee and Jack Sharkey, the latter cut his lip open due to a broken tooth. As a result, was forced to resign via doctor stoppage.
With mouthguards helping to not only make the sport of boxing safer (in relative terms) but also avoid unsatisfying early ends to contests, they started to become commonplace, although it would take decades before it would become mandatory.