Eric Sugarman (Kevin Brown/Viking Update)
The Vikings are beginning to warm up to new mouthguards and mouthwear produced by a BiteTech, a Minnesota company. In fact, three Vikings players are investors in the company.
Vikings head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman wasn’t about to be easily swayed. He gets the inquiries all the time.
Some fan has the solution for Percy Harvin’s migraines. Another has the perfect home remedy for a quicker recovery from a sprained ankle, torn bicep, or just fill in the blank.
So when a company comes calling on the Vikings with the latest and greatest invention that will help their players – or probably more accurately help the company’s profile – Sugarman proceeds with caution.
That was the case when a company called BiteTech, despite its Minnesota residency, initially called. Until a company can prove its worth to Sugarman and his medical staff with independent scientific proofs, he’s not terribly interested in investing his time and reputation on something unfamiliar. A couple years after his initial contact with BiteTech, however, Sugarman is sold and hoping to sell more players on the benefits of its mouthguard and mouthwear, which are two different concepts.
“There is plenty of free advice all the time. The things that we try that are new are really things that people can prove to us that scientifically work,” Sugarman said.
BiteTech’s mouthguard is more traditional to those familiar with football equipment. Most amateur players use some form of a “boil and bite” soft plastic that is heated in water and formed around the teeth on the players’ upper jaw. BiteTech’s more advanced version is custom fitted, and Sugarman believes a better fit provides better prevention of concussions and mouth injuries.
“We know that mouthguards, the uppers (pieces), help reduce the severity of concussions, so I think concussion is the biggest hot topic there is right now,” he said. “I think that alone is enough to make it worth the product.”
In fact, the NFL is getting more and more serious about concussion prevention as more evidence mounts about the ill effects concussions have had on its aging alumni. This year, posters are being placed in locker room imploring players to report concussion-like symptoms.
But the science of the mouthwear, the lower piece that isn’t for protection, also has piqued his interest for the conditioning benefits it has.
“When athletes exert themselves, clenching the jaw is a natural reaction,” the company explained in a press release. “Teeth-clenching, however, triggers the excess production and release of hormones, such as cortisol, that procures stress, fatigue and distraction, hindering an athlete’s performance. ArmourBite Technology prevents an athlete’s teeth from clenching.”
An initial study produced good results, but Sugarman noted that one was funded by BiteTech. When an independent study produced a similar result, he found it worth more investigation.
“With a reduction of cortisol, you’ll have a better performance because you’ll have more concentration. You’ll be able to relax. … It actually does work,” Sugarman said.
He had a few players trying to convince him of that in the last year. Adrian Peterson, Bernard Berrian and Anthony Herrera are all investors in the company, as are Marian Gaborik and Brett Hull of NHL hockey fame.
More Vikings could become believers. During minicamp weekend in June, 40 of the top players were fitted for mouthpieces and Sugarman planned on testing the condition and weight-lifting benefits with several of them. Of course, independent testing has already showed some of those benefits.
Sugarman compared the team’s involvement there with past instances using products from the Nike Vision Center and Starkey Hearing.
BiteTech has also been working with The Citadel, another NFL team, and IMG Academies, a name that has become familiar to football insiders because of its agents.
But even with all the affiliations the Minnesota company has been building, its product can’t be forced on NFL players. At that level, wearing a mouthguard or mouthwear is optional, despite the increased awareness with concussions.
“I’m not going to force it. It’s not mandatory, but the concussion part is what interests me,” Sugarman said.
“If you have kids that play midget football, the mouthguard is mandatory. If a guy plays in high school, it’s mandatory. In college, it’s mandatory. In the NFL, it’s optional.”
Maybe with more scientific research, that too could change in the future.