An Experimental and Finite Element Study of the Protective Mechanisms of Sports Mouthguards

Paterson, Niall (2006). An Experimental and Finite Element Study of the Protective Mechanisms of Sports Mouthguards. PhD thesis The Open University.



This work presents a broad investigation into the protective mechanisms and design specifications of sports mouthguards, motivated by the need to standardise testing of these personal protective devices.

A mechanical model in the form of an artificial jaw was developed to allow impact testing of a range of mouthguards in situ. The protective capabilities of different design features were assessed, with thicker larger mouthguards performing best. Various forms of tooth fracture were investigated and the influence of the embedding method was linked to the type of fracture seen.

A user study was also conducted that compared the same range of mouthguards investigated in the impact tests, but in term of user perceptions of comfort prior to fitting the mouthguard, after fitting the mouthguard and after mild exercise. The concept of familiarisation was found to have a significant influence on the perception of comfort. Clear trends could be seen with respect to exercise, user experience, and specific design features such as thin soft material and close fit.

Static 3D and dynamic 2D FE modelling were carried out to investigate the protective mechanisms of idealised mouthguards in simple linear elastic models. The concepts of cushioning and support were defined and explored. Cushioning is the mechanisms by which soft layers reduce impact stresses. Support is the mechanism by which rigid layers share the load over neighbouring teeth. FE modelling showed that bi-layer and tri-layer guards can offer superior protection compared to monolayer guards by combining the requirements of cushioning and support. However, the optimum design parameters of mouthguards depend upon the type of load, and so there is no universal solution for all risks. Hence it is proposed to classify the requirements of any particular mouthguard application in terms of cushioning and support, based on a probability of impact characteristics occurring.

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