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Mouthguards for motorcyclists
...testing new safety equipment

I'm keen on motorcycling safety equipment, and as a critical consumer I am often disappointed by the quality of information we have available to us to make our product selections. That's why I'm such a strong supporter of the Snell standard for helmets; the Snell Memorial Foundation (www.smf.org) is an independant organization that tests helmets, providing independant verification of the manufacturers claims to the safety performance of their products. No other safety product of the many that motorcyclists and racers depend on undergoes that same independently verified testing process.

mouthguard attached to Andrea's helmet In sports like football, soccer and hockey with the combined strength of large professional and amateur sporting associations research into safety equipment is much more extensive. Amateur associations in all three sports in most of North America have made mouthguards mandatory, as a result of their research into concussion prevention. One amateur football organization that had helmet rules in place for years, reduced concussions by 50% in a single year by making mouthguards mandatory.

The connection between impact to the jaw and resulting unconsciousness and concussion is most obvious in the sport of boxing, where mouthguards have been medically recommended safety equipment since the 1960's. Which is about as long as we've had helmet laws for motorcyclists in Canada (and seat belt laws for car drivers).

gel max mouthguard Helmets are improving all the time, but there remain three ways to knock yourself unconscious inside your helmet; the impact of your brain with your skull, your brain suffering rotational forces (a greater risk for car racers actually) and the impact between your jaw and your skull. Only the third is preventable with safety equipment.

So that's how I came to start researching the use of mouthguards for motorcycle racing; motocross racers and car racers are starting to use mouthguards, but so far no one seems to be using them in motorcycle road racing. Like a helmet, the fit of a mouth guard is considered critical to it's safety performance. Mouthguards come in two main types - ones you fit yourself (usually softening the material in hot water) and ones custom build from a mold of your mouth (which involves a trip to the dentist's office).

power ultra mouthguard after 'boil and bite' fitting After my initial research, one company seemed to emerge as an industry leader 'Shock Doctor', and provided a wide range of models. I discussed the idea with a few other racers and talked them into testing a few different mouthguards. Several of us (myself included) tested a model designed for car racers. I can only assume their helmets fit differently than a motorcycle helmet, since of the three riders who tested this model, none of us found it fit comfortably inside a motorcycle helmet. We're now testing two other models with moderate success, I've found both fit me well and are comfortable inside my helmet. After wearing both I think I have a slight preference for the comfort of the less-rigid model, but I might end up deciding I prefer the greater protection the more rigid model offers.

One problem we're encountering with the tethered models - larger riders are not finding the tether long enough to reach comfortably from the helmet strap to the mouth, or the tether mount (which protrudes between your lips) didn't fit comfortably between their chin and the jaw bar of their helmet. There are untethered models available, and some racers prefer that option anyway.

If you use a mouth guard for motorcycle racing, if you're a marshal, ems staff or medical doctor who has had trackside experience with mouthguards, please let me know more about your experience with this safety equipment.

DNA mouthguard being tested for motorcycle racing

Update 2009

A third type of Shock Doctor mouthguard, the DNA model, has been added to our testing, with some of the rigidity of the Ultra model, and some of the squishiness of the Gel Max model, it seemed like a good compromise, and the two testers both found the boil-and-bite fitment easy. I found that the mouthguard crowded my tongue too much at the back of my mouth with the helmet on and the mouthguard fitted - a similar problem to the lower-jaw model, and the other tester commented on a similar problem. Disappointing, since the DNA model mouthguard seems otherwise very comfortable.

Mouthguard Testers Survey Results

Hardly a statistically significant testing group, we had four racers in two different motorcycle road racing series testing three different models of Shock Doctor mouth guards. Four models of motorcycle helmet were involved in the test (Shark, Arai, HJC and Shoei) in sizes ranging from extra-small to medium. None of the testers had worn mouthguards for sports previously to this test.

Q ~ How did you find the 'boil and bite' fitting process?

Answers: process was straightforward and instructions manageable

Q ~ Do you feel that you got your mouthguard to fit your mouth well?

Answers: Some took two tries but all were happy with the resulting fit

Q ~ How would you describe the fit and feel of your mouthguard

Answers: Gel Max was a snug, comfortable fit for all four testers, two of three testers found the Ultra too rigid, and the two testers who tried the DNA model both found it comfortable.

Q ~ Is the mouthguard comfortable to wear without your helmet?

Answers: most testers found a mouthguard a bit intrusive at first, but generally comfortable to wear

Q ~ How does the mouthguard fit with your helmet on?

Answers: Gel Max was the model all testers could fit, although the tether didn't work out for some. The Ultra model fit well inside the helmet too. Although the DNA model fit comfortably neither tester found it worked well with a helmet, getting too crowded at the back of the mouth.

Q ~ Prefer tether or no tether?

Answers: 2 to 2 - two riders prefer tether, two don't - one tester performed track-side surgery to convert his to an untethered model and it took less than a minute.

Q ~ How did you find the mouthguard when you are riding on the track?

Answers: Some found it somewhat obtrusive at first, some were surprised at how comfortable they were. All four testers found they got used to it after a day or so of use.

Q ~ Do you feel safer wearing the mouthguard?

Answers: All four testers said yes

Q ~ Do you feel it's a worthwhile safety expense

Answers: All four testers felt the safety value returned on their minimal investment was worthwhile.

Q ~ Will you continue to wear a mouthguard on the track?

Answers: All four testers will continue to use a mouthguard

gel-max mouthguard favourite of testers


  • Of the mouthguards tested, the Gel Max (see left) was the hands down favorite, although the Ultra worked in a motorcycle helmet too.
  • All riders who took the time (a day or so) to get used to this new item of safety equipment felt safer wearing a mouthguard.

Andrea's Notes

I've been wearing the mouthguard for two full seasons now, and I am definitely used to considering it part of my safety equipment for the track. It's part of how I put on my 'race-face' and I would definitely feel less safe without it.

If you use a mouth guard for motorcycle racing, if you're a marshal, ems staff or medical doctor who has had trackside experience with mouthguards, please let me know more about your experience with this safety equipment.

Some additional information:

Wikipedia on Mouthguards:

Wikipedia on Concussion:

Sports Dentistry and Concussion prevention:

More about brain injuries in sports:

Canadian National Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Prevention:

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