Thousands of Arkansas kids are getting ready to hit the football field. Most athletes and their parents know a mouth guard can be essential in preventing injuries on the field. What they may not know is that the same piece of equipment can actually lead to life-threatening illnesses.
Football practice can get pretty rough for the 7A conference champs. The Bryant high school football players know bumps and bruises come with the territory, but safety comes first and that's why each player wears a mouth guard.
“They protect your mouth and absorb the shock when you get hit. It also helps me from losing teeth,” says Matt Norton.
“If I take a hard hit, it won't rattle my teeth,” says Marcus
Mouth guards are meant to protect, but even when they hit the ground, the game must go on.
“I just rinse it off with water and go back to playing,” says Matt.
Only water to rinse off a dirty mouth guard? The results of a new study may have athletes re-thinking those actions. Many are exposing themselves to a shocking amount of bacteria.
“You expose the mouth guard to say, a thousand germs. Then you put the mouth guard away, and overnight, millions and millions of germs will grow from that thousand, so when you put the mouth guard back in, certainly you have a significant number of micro-organisms,” says Dr. Glass.
“They're kept warm. They're kept wet,” says Dr. Conrad.
Microbiologists at Oklahoma State University made the discovery after swabbing dozens of mouth guards used by athletes. The results published in an issue of General Dentistry are truly staggering.
“The mouth guard becomes highly, highly, contaminated. In other words, every time the athlete puts the mouth guard into his mouth, it's like putting a handful of dirt in his mouth,” says. Dr. Glass.
Mouth guards look solid, but are actually porous. That allows for flexibility, but it also allows for easier growth of bacteria and microorganisms. From staph to strep, researchers say its reason for serious concern.
“Not only are we worried about the effect right there in the mouth, we're worried about the effect in the lungs, with exercise-induced asthma from molds, and we're worried about the bacteria in the stomach that will produce toxins that will cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea,” says Dr. Glass.
And researcher’s say if the mouthpiece cuts the tissue of the mouth and germs get into the bloodstream the results can be worse.
“We have found staphlycoccus aureus in mouth guards that are methicillin resistant and, of course, this can be fatal,” says Dr. Glass.
“I clean it every time I come off the field or every time I get a chance,” says Marcus.
Our experts say rinsing a mouth guard, even boiling it, isn't enough. Their best advice: Dr. Glass says: change the mouth guard at least once every two weeks. Simply throw it away.
At about two dollars a pop, Bryant football players say that's no problem. Junior defensive tackle Matt Norton sees this new information as a real score for sports. Now he's passing the information along to his teammates.
“Just doing this it has thousands and then when we set it in the locker room, millions get on it. That's pretty scary when you think about that,” says Matt.
Doctor Glass is now conducting a new study looking into the best way to store mouth guards and even testing solutions to see how effective they may be at killing bacteria on the mouth guard.