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Under Armour Performance Mouthwear: Part 2

Under Armour Performance Mouthwear: Part 2

[ Thu, 2010-07-08 16:37 ]
Under Armour Performance Mouthpiece
The claim: A small, custom-molded plastic mouthguard can make you a stronger, more powerful skier. SKI Magazine's fitness editor puts the device to the test.

Click here to read Part 1

"As a species, we haven't evolved away from the main fight-or-flight mechanism of clenching our jaws," Bob Molhoek, executive vice president of Bite Tech tells me. Millions of years ago, when we were living in caves and dragging our knuckles, jaw- clenching was more than a subconscious reflex; it was a defense function. Lose an arm or a leg to a saber-tooth tiger, and you could, conceivably, live to tell about it. Lose a chunk of your mandible to an outsized feline, however, and not only would you be unable to tell about it, your days were inevitably numbered. After all, if you couldn’t chew or swallow, you couldn’t survive. Today, clenching is a reflex remnant, a universal human response to stress or danger, but it isn’t without function.

Studies show that when we clench our jaws, our adrenal glands release several hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline. In a quick bout of wits and strength, cortisol and adrenaline are, no doubt, advantageous. But during prolonged physical activities (a marathon, bike ride or six-hour ski day), their helpfulness appears to diminish. In fact, too much cortisol can limit your peripheral vision, decrease your metabolism, cause fatigue, inhibit muscle repair, hinder endurance and weaken bones. In this case, a little is good, but a lot isn’t better.

Which is why I found myself suppressing my gag reflex as a friendly dental technician shoved a gob of plaster into my mouth to make an impression of my lower jaw. In about 10 minutes, the gooey purple plaster would harden into a mold that would then be shipped off to a lab where a technician would create my coveted, personal mandibular orthodontic repositioning appliance (MORA), a.k.a. performance mouthpiece. I’d receive it about two weeks later.

The key to the device, developed by Molhoek’s Bite Tech, branded by Under Armour and worn by professional and recreational athletes (including members of the New Orleans Saints, Olympic triathlete Sarah Haskins and—I’d learn—my dentist’s son) is a simple plastic wedge. Two actually, which sit over your rear molars and prevent you from clamping your teeth shut. No clenching, the theory goes, means fewer performance-blocking hormones are released into your system. Interrupt your body's fight-or-flight response; tap your full athletic potential. What’s more, in shifting your lower jaw forward, the device is purported to expand your airway—allowing you to take in more oxygen—which is as good for your brain as it is for your muscles.

During my breezy, 10-minute fitting appointment, my dentist tells me his son's been wearing a device this season while playing baseball. He can’t say for sure whether the uptick in his son’s batting average and pitching speed is a result of the mouthpiece, a teenage growth spurt or increased training, but he notes that his son is noticeably more alert and focused while wearing the device—on the field and in the classroom.

No doubt, increased focus would vastly improve my performance—in the moguls and at work—so I’m excited for my first MORA-assisted workout. Stay tuned...