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October 19, 2012

BehindTheMedspeak: "Animal feces not all that's in NFL players' mouthguards"


No, stop, don't click away, it's not an Onion headline but comes straight from page 8C of today's USA Today.

Long story short: "Studies have found blood, sputum, mouth discharges (tobacco products), chemicals, animal feces, and other players' DNA on players' hands, gloves, helmets, uniforms, shoes, socks, and equipment."


More from the article below.


Antoine Bethea's earnest face folded in trepidation and disdain. The Indianapolis Colts Pro Bowl safety wanted to see the list. He was afraid to see the list.

"It's nasty, isn't it?" he inquired uncomfortably. "I thought about that when I first started playing. I've thought about that a million times. You just hope it's nothing too bad."

Bethea was handed the list. He read silently until he reached line 5. He looked up, expression stricken.

"Animal feces," he said. "That's disgusting. That's disgusting. That's crazy, man."

Crazy but true. Athletic mouthguards are a crucial football equipment item. They protect teeth, tongues and lips. They act as shock absorbers to prevent concussions. And they are a rich delivery system for a range of bacteria, fungi and yeasts associated with a wide variety of diseases and infections.

Mouthguards are exposed, through handling, to whatever elements are found on football fields. It's a scary lot. Studies have found blood, sputum, mouth discharges (tobacco products), chemicals, animal feces and other players' DNA on players' hands, gloves, helmets, uniforms, shoes, socks and equipment.

"Whoa," said practice squad quarterback Chandler Harnish.

"Ugh," winced wide receiver Donnie Avery.

"Blood?" recoiled defensive end Cory Redding. "Hope it's mine."

"Awesome," laughed tackle Anthony Castonzo, who never removes his mouthguard during practice or games. "Good to know."

The fact is mouthguard handling, storage and cleaning are less than afterthoughts for most. The exposure and risks are largely unknown to or ignored by players.

"I think there are bigger things out there for people to worry about than getting some germs on your mouthpiece," Harnish said. "When you're getting in car crashes every play, the last thing on your mind is your mouthpiece."

That attitude is longstanding and prevalent but there are reasons for reassessment.

Dirt, skank and disease

Richard T. Glass, professor of forensic sciences, pathology and dental medicine at Oklahoma State University, has studied mouthguards extensively. He collaborated on a study that found microbial contamination of mouthguards by bacteria, yeasts and molds associated with heart disease, pneumonia, meningitis and infections of the skin, mouth, gum, bone and urinary and gastro-intestinal tracts.

The unpleasant and self-evident truth is this: if a player removes and reinserts his mouthguard, he might as well be sticking his fingers or gloves in his mouth.

Almost all the Colts queried remove their mouthguards during practices and games, some between plays, some only between series. They store them almost everywhere.

Redding, Harnish, Avery, outside linebacker Robert Mathis and quarterback Andrew Luck do what's most common. They stick theirs in their facemasks. Bethea and linebacker Mario Harvey stash them in their socks. Linebacker Pat Angerer and center Samson Satele hold them in their hands. Linebacker Kavell Conner sets his on the bench. Wide receiver LaVon Brazill sticks his in his skull cap.

"You see guys stick it in their waistband, put it behind their ear," Harvey said.

None of those perches are ideal but they are hardly the worst of it.

"Drop it in the dirt, I don't even think twice to wipe it off," Redding said. "Put it my mouth, minerals and all, and keep rolling."

Ditto Angerer.

"Sometimes you drop it, pop it back in your mouth and think, 'Man, that wasn't right, you know?'." Angerer said. "Nothing you can do about it. That's football."

Home remedies abound.

Redding soaks his mouthguard in Listerine before practices and games. The problem with that is, the alcohol in the mouthwash breaks down the plastic in the mouthguard.

Mathis sprays his with water, once a week or so, but that's intermittent and water is ineffective against most contaminants.

"When I'm on the sideline drinking Gatorade, I put mine in my cup and get some Gatorade action going," Brazill said hopefully.

Of course you're drinking your cleaning solution his interrogator pointed out.

The realization registered. Brazill's face fell. He laughed. What are you going to do?

Quit the "Gatorade action" for one. The sugar in the sports drink can render a mouthguard an even more fertile germ-breeder.

There is a better way

Glass' study determined that "microbial load" can be reduced by soaking a mouthguard in an antimicrobial solution between uses. He suggests replacing the mouthguard every two weeks.

The solution is readily available if seldom accessed. Colts head athletic trainer Dave Hammer said Defense Sport Mouthguard Rinse from SaniBrands, Inc., is available in the locker and training rooms.

Most Colts said they knew nothing of it. Forewarned is forearmed.

SaniBrands says it supplies all 32 NFL teams, some NBA, WNBA, NHL clubs and dozens of colleges and high schools across the country with its product.

"When I tell the story of dirty mouthguards to parents, their eyes glaze over," said Al DolceAmore, SaniBrands president. "You can see the wheels turning in their minds. You can tell they're seeing their kid's mouthguard sitting in the cup holder of the minivan or under the seat in the Suburban.

"Or the kid comes home after practice and mom says, 'Your mouthguard is here. What did you do?'

"And the kid says, 'Oh, I just shared with Tommie.' "

Most Colts have been playing football since they were kids. Most have done so with scant interest in their mouthguards or the risks inherent. Many are dismissive when confronted with the issues. Football is the ultimate tough-guy culture.

"I've been playing all my life," outside linebacker Dwight Freeney said. "My immune system is probably built up from doing it so long.

"I hope."


FunFact: I'm guessing not more than 1 in 20 of my readers know who the guy in the picture up top is.

October 19, 2012 at 09:01 PM | Permalink


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At a guess, the guy at the top is a football player, probably one quite well known to people who care about that sort of thing. What do I win?

As for all the crap (quite literally) they stick in their mouths along with their mouth guards - so what? They been doing it since mouth guards were introduced with no problems. It seems that *knowing* what they're ingesting is the problem rather than what they're ingesting.

Posted by: Graeme | Oct 21, 2012 11:39:13 PM

i love football - a game of sportsmanship played with


Posted by: sherlock | Oct 20, 2012 4:00:35 AM

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