More than a year ago I wrote a piece about a simple mouth guard which prevented concussions when worn by athletes. I asked why the NFL wasn't all over it, testing it, buying it, and making it part of their equipment.
The mouth guard was developed and is sold by a dentist named Gerald Maher who for many years has been the dentist for the New England Patriots. As Patriots players got the hang of the device they raved about it, (testimonials on Maher's company's website ) especially players who had already suffered heard trauma.
As those Patriots players like Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel moved about the league they brought their mouth guards with them and members of their new teams were introduced to the device. But this was mere anecdotal evidence and the NFL said it needed peer reviewed studies, in which it never seemed to be interested enough to put into motion.
The Maher mouth guard doesn't prevent all concussions. It works specifically with the lower jaw but its success rate, until recently all anecdotal, is eyebrow raising if not astounding.
And then a few weeks ago, a study was published on Dr. Maher's device. Its study subjects were high school age football players, and according to a statement filed with the House Judiciary Committee by Maher's company, Mahercor Laboratories, LLC, it validates the company's methods of examining a player's jaw and fitting a device to help prevent concussion from direct blows.
Two weeks ago, that same committee, chaired by Representative John Conyers, (D-MI) heard testimony from NFL executives, former players, wives of former players, and medical professionals. The topic was what the league will do with recent study results that found its retired players are 19 times more likely than the average person who never played football to be diagnosed with a memory disorder.
The league now has data it can't ignore any longer. But since the study didn't prove a direct causal link between concussions on the field of play and the condition of the brains of ex-NFL players, it doesn't want to admit anything and says it needs to study the problem in more detail.
In the meantime, concussions occur weekly on every team, some more newsworthy than others.
All the Judiciary Committee did was to give the league its chance to insist that it was working on the problem therefore government intervention isn't necessary.
Some conservative members of the committee used that time to talk about their disdain for poking Congress' nose into a private workplace, even if worker safety is a factor. Funny how OSHA doesn't seem to apply to football players.
Mahercor has an advocate in Senator John Kerry (D MA) as well as endorsements from the ADA, the current president of the AFL-CIO, and a board member of Blue Cross/Blue Shield. It has the study results published in the The Academy of Sports Dentistry's Referring Journal, the Journal of Dental Traumatology,
I have no relationship with Mahercor and write as a journalist and observer. In the year since I began following this story, the concussion problems for the NFL have not only continued, but data about brain damage to former players as young as their mid-thirties is very disturbing.
I think it's time to take some relief where the league can find it right now. As I said, the Mahercor mouth guard isn't a cure for all head trauma. But it's a great start and it seems odd that the league doesn't use its two-minute drill to get some relief where it exists right now.
Gregg Easterbrook today
Why won't the NFL set a positive example and require advanced helmets? And the league's announcement says nothing about double-sided mouthguards, the fastest, cheapest step against concussions. New England Patriots players wear double-sided mouthguards. If the NFL required them for all players, the NCAA and most high schools would soon follow.
Oct 1/09 research publication