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Mouth Guard Records When Players' Heads Rattle

An i1 Biometrics concussion-detecting mouth guard in its charging cradle.
Wallis Watkins

To keep a better eye on head injuries in the past, the LSU football team has had concussion detectors installed in players’ helmets. This season, LSU became the first team in the NCAA to try high-tech mouth guards to measure hits.

Jesse Harper, CEO of i1 Biometrics which makes the mouth guards, says they’re more accurate than in-helmet detectors.

"Your upper jaw is a fixed, external portion of your skull. Everywhere that mouth guard goes, your skull is moving," Harper said. 

The mouth guard has an accelerometer and a gyroscope that measure the rattling, in Gs per millisecond. An average hit on the field is about 20Gs, about the same as a typical car accident. Recent studies of concussions suggest hits that measure more than 90Gs are cause for concern.

Jack Marucci, Director of Athletic Training at LSU, has about 20 players wearing the mouth guards  most of them linemen, who suffer about three quarters of all concussions.

"They're the ones that take repetitive blows," Marucci said. 

It's not only about measuring big hits, but keeping an eye on those smaller hits, that happen on every play. The training staff would like to see all players wearing the mouth guards all the time, But defensive end Jermauria Rasco only wears his in practice.

"Because during the game you get nervous and want to chew on your mouth piece the whole time, but you can't chew on this because it's really expensive," Rasco said. 

The mouth guards are $199 each. Marucci says it’s worth the cost, even just for monitoring during practice. The LSU team usually records two or three concussions during the season. But during training camp, they can see double that number. 

"We want to show the NCAA here's where these guys are taking all these blows, this is how many practices it takes to get to this point," Marucci said. 

And that could lead to limiting the number of practices per day, or how much hitting is allowed during training camp.