By: Olivia Wile
“Give your mouth a sporting chance” – it’s the mantra for the Academy of Sports Dentistry and for Jack Winters, a retired pediatric dentist based in Findlay, a former Division I College Football Official, and an advocate for safer sporting equipment.
“I really have been blessed with the athletics and sports dentistry,” said Winters about his career. “I did a residency in pediatric dentistry, so that kept me close to kids, and I started doing a lot of orthodontics with my practice so I would make mouth guards for them to fit over their braces.”
It was officiating, however, that Winters says prompted a wake-up call after he started seeing the quality of mouth guards the athletes were wearing during play.
“It certainly did because I could see the quality of mouth pieces that the players were wearing and they weren’t very good,” said Winters. “The quality you get from the store aren’t very good, that’s why they end up on the field of play instead of in the mouth where they really should be.”
As he was witnessing this firsthand on the field, Winters was also introduced to a new innovation by Australian Dentist, Brett Dorney.
“In 1994, I had a weekend off of officiating and went to San Diego for the International Academy of Dental Traumatology meeting,” said Winters. “At that meeting I met a young dentist, we were both young in those days, from Australia and they were making a different mouth guard than we were in the United States.”
This type of mouth guard, Winters explains, is pressure laminated and custom fit much like a retainer.
“We’re bringing two layers over top of each other. The orange layer is the initial layer that we put over, we can put that athletes name number logo then we bring the second layer over the top and that’s why its called a laminated,” explained Winters while pointing to a UF garnished mouthpiece. “The athlete can’t chew through this as easily as he can with some of what they’re picking up in the sporting goods store.”
After discovering the new design and starting to make it himself, Winters, along with Dorney and Japanese Dentist, Tomotaka Takeda, realized it can actually protect against concussion.
“If we have a good quality mouth guard and a little separation in the head of the condyle to the base of the skull, when a blow comes, then it doesn’t travel right on the base of the skull and get to the brain where we’re seeing problems.”
These problems cannot be solved with better helmets alone, according to Winters.
“There’s no helmet out there that will help protect that chin area and that’s where a lot of times they’re spending so much time, so much money, so much research on helmets, when that’s good what they’ve done, but that’s not the complete answer,” said Winters.
The complete answer, he says, is this new design and it’s been proven by the University of Findlay’s football team for the last three decades.
“When did I start making mouthpieces for the University of Findlay? Dick Strom came here, maybe 30 years ago, [and] I got to know him, got to know some of his players,” explained Winters. “We developed a great friendship and I started to make the mouthpieces for his football team at that time.”
Winters, now 81, continues to make mouth pieces for the team in a workshop in his garage and donates them.
“I have a little set up out in my garage and I’m able to make the mouth guards once the model once the impression is made,” said Winters. “When I get them fabricated, I take them to the University in the trainers office and fit the mouth guards for the athletes.”
As for why Winters is confident in this design, he says the lack of concussions this season alone speaks for itself.
“The number of concussions the athletes of have received are far down from what they were last year,” said Winters. “So I feel comfortable that what we’re doing is having an effect.”
An effect Winters hopes the National Football League will realize soon.
“We need to get the NFL to be thinking more in terms of a quality mouth guard,” emphasized Winters. “It’s not required now in the NFL, so the players who are wearing mouth guards are wearing the ones of their own choosing. Not all mouth guards are equal.”