When boxing's first protective gum shield (mouthpiece) was introduced in 1913 by dentist Jack Marles and was consequently made popular by boxer Ted "Kid" Lewis, his creation was purely intended to provide protection for the teeth and gums. (Find the full story here.) Little did he know, his simple product would ultimately be altered and engineered to improve athletic performance and would become a necessessity in nearly all combat and contact sports. However, it wasn't until recent years that companies put the research behind this piece of gear to enhance its protective benefits and discover that a good mouthpiece can actually make an athlete stronger and faster. By providing a better fit and aligning the jaw more properly, your mouthpiece can actually add power to your punch and improve your ability to take a better shot. A better chin combined with the ability to hit harder... could that be true? It could be and it is.
More than the obvious benefits of just protecting your chompers from being punched-out, a good quality mouthpiece affects your physical ability and energetic output. This is achieved through positively affecting the position of your jaw by drawing it down, out and away from the base of your skull so that direct impact to the brain is lessened. The proper placement of your jaw also affects the position of your head. In turn, the position of your head affects your posture. If your jaw, head and body are all in alignment, then your body and brain are not wasting energy on trying to balance and counter-balance your head. Even though the adjustments are so small that they are in-perceivable, because you are constantly getting hit, constant adjustments are being made. The thousands of punches you take and movements you make during a six or eight round sparring session really add up and are distracting from your focus, even if you are not aware of it. You may not sense the ongoing task that your body is subconsciously managing for you, but it's taking a small toll on your energy levels and focus.
Gaining power is a plus because you have to wear a mouthpiece anyway, but the type of jaw-clenching that holding a mouthpiece in place requires, also improves blood flow to the brain. This translates into more awareness and greater focus. Even without these added benefits, biting down on your mouthpiece is just smart. It helps protect you from getting your jaw broken and forces you to breathe through your nose, which also helps balance the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in our blood, which directly affects your aerobic endurance.
Will getting the best mouthpiece money can buy suddenly transform you into a devastating power puncher? No, but it can serve as one piece of the puzzle that will make you are more complete, picture-perfect fighter. According to a Rutgers University study conducted in 2008, you can realistically expect an improvement of anywhere from 3-7% in power output. In this study, participants clearly demonstrated enhanced performance during short duration, explosive exercises, like boxing.
Knowing that a mouthpiece can have so many far-reaching implications gives you one more reason to consider what value you're placing on your boxing pursuits. Why spend two dollars on a standard, boil-and-bite mouthpiece only to turn around and splurge hundreds of bucks on a pair of gloves? Just as important as protecting yourself at all times, it is equally as important to protect yourself at all costs. In today's economic climate, everyone has a budget, but if boxing is your business, then invest your hard earned dollars wisely and put your money where your mouth is.
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