Definition: "An ergogenic aid is any substance or phenomenon that enhances performance "

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Mouth guards make you stronger and faster

Athletes are stronger and quicker if they bite on a custom-made mouth guard while doing intensive exercise. Sports scientists at Ramon Llull University in Spain wrote about this in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

If you use muscle group A intensively you can develop more strength by activating muscle group B simultaneously. Sports scientists call this phenomenon "concurrent activation potentiation".

The phenomenon probably arises because the electrical stimuli that drive your muscles increase in strength the more muscles they drive at the same time.

That means, for example, that strength athletes can develop more strength if they clench their jaw during sets. And clenching your jaw is safer if you use a mouth guard. The Spanish researchers studied the effect of biting on a customised mouthpiece in their study. They used 28 healthy, active men aged 20-26 as experimental subjects.

The researchers got the men to squeeze handsprings on three different occasions. On one occasion the men did nothing with their jaws [NON-JAW], on another occasion they clenched their teeth together [JAW], and on the third occasion they bit into their mouth guard [MOUTHPIECE].

The figure below shows that the subjects were able to squeeze the spring more forcefully when they clenched their jaw, and they developed even more strength when they used a mouthpiece.

Mouth guards make you stronger and faster

The researchers got the subjects to use a rowing machine in a comparable experiment, and asked them to pull the handlebar as quickly as possible towards their abdomen. The rate of force of development [i.e. the speed] did not increase when the subjects clenched their jaw, but it did increase when the men bit on a mouthpiece.

Mouth guards make you stronger and faster

"This study contributes to changing the idea that customized mouthpieces only protect the teeth", the researchers write. "The findings support the idea that wearing dentistry-designed bite-aligning mouthpieces can also improve sport performance as suggested in previous studies."

The Spaniards go on to add that probably not all mouthpieces will work equally well for increasing speed and strength. "Only custom-made mouth guards fitted by an expert dentist using a precise scanner seems to be effective to promote ergogenic effects on strength and power actions because the specific improvement of temporo-mandibular alignment."

"Thus, this study wants to encourage practitioners for recommending the use of dentistry-designed mouthpieces to their athletes. Its use in training sessions and also in competition could promote improvements in strength and power actions."

J Strength Cond Res. 2016 Apr;30(4):1102-10.

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