Fans may not notice from a distance, but the Lenoir City High School football team will be sporting new mouth guards this season.
Dr. Chris Lee of Lenoir City Dental visited the team July 23 to perform free digital screenings to customize mouth guards for each player.
“I do a 3-D scan of the athlete’s mouth and in virtual reality I can design a mouth guard that’s custom fitted,” Lee said. “The whole goal is to make a mouth guard that is better protection, that stays in better, that allows them to breathe better, which allows them to perform better and you can also talk with it so you can call plays.”
Lee uses cutting-edge technology to map the exact measurements of each athlete’s mouth and design a unique mouth guard.
“It’s basically a video camera of the teeth,” he said. “It just converts it to a computer file. I can then send it to the lab. Basically, they take it and 3-D print a model of the teeth — they can hold it in their hands. I take it to my lab, take some rubber mouth guard material and custom mold it to that 3-D model of the teeth. The main benefit is there’s no goopy stuff. This way, it’s just a lot more comfortable, it’s more accurate and it’s a faster turnaround time, too.”
LCHS head football coach Jeff Cortez believes the mouth guards will benefit his team on the field, especially when it comes to communication and protection.
“Twenty-seven guys decided to try it out,” Cortez said. “If our guys wear them and use them properly, No. 1, it’s just going to be safer for their mouths, for their teeth. No. 2, it’s better protection for them. The third thing was, and I never thought about this was, but it’s just going to more sanitary. They’ll be able to talk like normal, take a squirt from a bottle of water with them. It’s just great.”
Lee played sports growing up, and from personal experience knows how valuable mouth guards can be.
“I have always been into sports,” he said. “When I was playing baseball as a kid, a baseball hit me in my mouth and smacked my teeth. Luckily, they didn’t all fall out, but it helped me understand that you’ve got to wear protection. As a kid, I was just always tired of the mouth guard falling out because it didn’t fit well. My dad, he’s a dentist, his dentist gave me a custom mouth guard and I was like, ‘Wow, this is so much better.’ It actually stays in and you want to wear it. You can talk with it and it’s not a distraction. I wanted to do something for the local community and local high school to help the athletes out.”
According to the American Dental Association, athletes are 60 times more likely to sustain a mouth injury if not wearing protection.
Lee hopes to help other local high schools in the future.
“I see teeth busted all the time, especially with football,” he said. “You need a good mouth guard in there. They’re (LCHS) the closest team to us, kind of the home team. If things go well and everything, I’d like to expand it as well. The previous dentist passed away, so I’ve been trying to work my own practice. I’m looking for new patients, too, and I wanted to be able offer a service that’s useful, helpful and kind of gets our name out as well.”