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Monitoring concussions with a mouthguard

Anthony Paris, Associate Professor of Engineering

Sports concussions are familiar bad-news headlines.

Nationally, Super Bowl champ Dave Duerson shot himself in the chest at age 50, asking science to figure out what head blows did to his brain during his football career.

Locally, a flag football player suffered a severe concussion after she ran into a pillar during practice. After months of rehab, she asked to speak to a coaches’ clinic on the hazards of head injury.

“There’s just not enough information on the brain,” Lexi Stewart said. “The doctor we saw didn’t know. The emergency room didn’t know. How’s a coach supposed to know? How’s a parent supposed to know?

A team of engineers and undergraduates at UAA, led by Anthony Paris, are working hard to evolve a ‘smart’ mouth guard to measure forces that act upon a brain when it gets hit. The university has a patent pending on a device with six tiny accelerometer chips that measure impact. This bridge is embedded in an acrylic mouth guard modeled to snugly fit a wearer’s teeth and gums.

“If a kid skateboarding in the street hits his head on the curb, how do you know what happened? How do you treat him?“ Paris asks.

If that skateboarder was wearing an instrumented mouth guard, an EMT could download the data on the way to the hospital.

“In 20 years, no one’s going to be putting a ‘dumb’ piece of plastic in their mouth,” said electrical engineer John Lund. Read more here.