Mouth guards have been used for quite a long time in sports for a single purpose—to protect an athlete’s teeth during rough contact. In a game, a mouth guard can protect an athlete from biting him or herself or from having his or her teeth knocked out after a particularly brutal play.
UC San Diego researchers have developed a mouth guard with the ability to detect chemical components of an athlete’s saliva. The mouth guard is equipped with sensors that detect the concentration of uric acid and lactate.
Uric acid levels can be used to detect metabolic disorders. High levels indicate that there is something out of the ordinary with the person wearing the guard. Lactate levels can be used to measure muscle fatigue, with high levels indicating the onset of fatigue. Other chemicals can be measured as well, though their direct relation to blood levels are not certain.
The mouth guard transmits information that is collected in real-time to any device that can work with Bluetooth technology. The device uses wireless transfer using Bluetooth Low Energy, which, as the name implies, uses much less energy than that of regular Bluetooth software.
This device hasn’t yet been tested in a human mouth, but it can detect levels in saliva. The reason that saliva is a popular method of testing things that are also present in the blood is that saliva testing is a much less invasive way to gain information about an athlete’s blood levels than blood tests.
Another advantage to saliva-based testing, especially with this mouth guard, is that the information can be updated in real-time during a game or in training, and the athlete can be notified as soon his or her chemical balances begin to change for the worse, leading to optimal performance.
The next prototype is going to have smaller electronics that can be housed more comfortably in a player’s mouth. Along with athletes, though, this mouth guard can be used to respond to soldiers and pilots as well, monitoring stress levels as difficult situations are presented in training.