Intelligent mouthguard may lead to concussion-proof helmets

CLEVELAND -- There is no football helmet on the market that can definitively prevent concussions. And researchers at the Cleveland Clinic say it may take many years to design one. However, they are hoping that a device Kent State University football players will start using this summer, may give them the information needed to design that perfect helmet.

"I absolutely believe a better safer helmet could be built," says Dr. Adam Bartsch who is leading a team of researchers at the Cleveland Clinic Spine Research Laboratory. "We won't have a concussion-proof helmet in the next year or two. Or maybe even in the next 10 years. People really need to re-frame their point of view for expecting instant results for increased safety or accidental head collisions. But as some point we will get there. It's just not going to happen overnight," Bartsch concedes.

However what is happening right now is a device called the "intelligent mouthguard". "If you want to put a sensor on a human, you don't want to put it on the helmet or the head. You want it on the teeth. So this is showing how the helmet moves," Bartsch demonstrates. The wireless mouthguard will measure in-game head impacts as they happen, and then will transmit data on head orientation, position, velocity and acceleration of the impact.

"I'm the son of an engineer and a registered nurse. I've had an interest in sports my whole life. And I see a real gap in the understanding of head injury in athletics in particular. Now there's not a lot of funding in the area. There is no governmental body that puts their stamp of approval on football helmets like car crash tests or military helmets. So there is a real need to enhance the state of the art and scientific understanding of this field," says Bartsch who believes he could devote the next thirty years of his life trying to better understand how concussions happen, and what can be done to prevent them.

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