SMRT Mouth

Retired Super Bowl champ Mike Robinson is pioneering the SMRT Mouth, a mouthguard that tracks players’ hydration, respiration, circulation and exertion levels to keep them safe and excelling in the summer heat.  The SMRT Mouth uses sensors to collect real-time data from inside the player’s mouth, then sends it to tablets that coaches, parents and team physicians can monitor from the sidelines.  Thanks to a crowd-funding campaign, SMRT Mouth is expected to launch at next year’s Consumer Electronics Show for $159.  With traditional mouthguards costing a tiny fraction of that, it’s an investment — but one that may save lives.  Heat-related injuries are the leading cause of death and disability in high school athletes, according to the CDC.  Football players, with their heavy gear, pose an especially high risk — 10 times the rate of another athlete.  Since 1995, there have been 55 football player deaths from heat: 42 of them were middle and high school students.  And the numbers are getting worse: Heat stroke has killed an average of three football players each year since 1995.  From 1980 to 1994, it was only one per year.  The rise may be because players are bigger and temperatures are hotter, said a 2011 study from the University of Georgia. High school boys are the most likely to have heat-related illness that sends them to the E.R., and two-thirds of players show up to practice significantly dehydrated, according to the Youth Sports Safety Alliance.–“This smart mouthguard measures how hydrated you are”, 7/28/15, Meredith Engel.

Heat Stress Dangers

Between the years 2000 and 2007, twenty deaths that occurred during high school and collegiate football practice were attributed to heat stress.  From 1980 to 2009, there were 58 documented hyperthermia deaths of American-style football players in the United States.  Hyperthermia is elevated body temperature due to failed thermoregulation that occurs when a body produces or absorbs more heat than it dissipates. Extreme temperature elevation then becomes a medical emergency requiring immediate treatment to prevent disability or death.  When played in hot weather, football lends itself to these dangers because the protective equipment worn creates microclimates above the skin surface but beneath the uniform, reducing heat dissipation and generating the risk of heat exhaustion and exercise-induced hyperthermia.  It’s recommended that in hot weather practices players suit up in stages and only wear equipment appropriate to the practice activity.  For example, helmets can be removed for general fitness training when they are not needed for protection.  Also recommended are frequent cooling breaks in the shade with ice water and misting fans, and having players sit in cold tubs after practice may also reduce risk and accelerate recovery.–“The Dangers of Heat Stress for Athletes”, 3/23/15, Mike Willey.

Heat-related Deaths

At least 5 high school football players died in the summer of 2011, one of record-breaking heat.  Climatologist Andrew Grundstein said the annual death rate during football practices—which was about one per year from 1980-94—has roughly tripled to 2.8 deaths per year.—“Ten years after Korey Stringer’s death, heat-related deaths still plague teams around the country”, The Washington Post 8/12/11, Matt Brooks, referencing a 2011 LA Times story.