Mouthpieces make a mark at fitness summit

ORLANDO, Fla. – Call me a dreamer. Call me a schemer. Call me a golfer who is looking for a quick fix.

Here at the Titleist World Golf Fitness Summit, I stumbled across the answer to all my golf problems. Well, maybe not, but I feel a surge of optimism.

What is responsible for this?

A mouthpiece. A mouthguard. A device that will allow me, in the jargon of the trade, to unlock the power of my jaw.

Mouthpieces are nothing new. Early Olympians often bit down on leather straps for more power. Likewise, ancient warriors sometimes went into battle while clamping down on pieces of leather.

Athletes in various sports have long used mouthguards, although this is for self-protection and not enhanced performance.

Enter the new era of improved power and endurance through a mouthpiece. There is evidence, largely anecdotal, of faster reaction times and reduced stress.

C’mon, man.

More testimony: Mike Dixey, a physical therapist from Eden Prairie, Minn., talked for 45 minutes about using mouthguards to correct the physical imbalance, or asymmetry, of athletes in several different sports.

“Amazing changes,” said Dixey, who uses mouthguards to treat many golfers for poor or improper posture.

OK, all golfers have a right to be skeptical. There are scientific studies to back up these claims, but one man’s study is another man’s manipulation, right?

I thought it was a joke until I took a generic ArmourBite mouthpiece, stuck it in some boiling water, adapted it to my mouth, tossed it in cold water to set its position, then went immediately to the range.

I have never had a better practice session. I felt alert and refreshed after hitting balls for an hour.

I’m not ready to become an ArmourBite spokesperson – like Hunter Mahan – but I am prepared to enthusiastically continue this experiment.

The Armour in ArmourBite comes from the Under Armour apparel company. Mahan is an Under Armour staffer. Although he is not paid specifically to endorse the mouthguard, he has done so because he, too, is intrigued by the product.

The mouthguard is manufactured by Bite Tech of Minneapolis. Bite Tech has licensed the Under Armour name, thus the ArmourBite derivation.

Bite Tech makes separate mouthguards for contact sports and non-contact sports.

It has a non-contact $495 golf mouthguard that is individually fit through dentists who are registered in the Under Armour network (see www.bitetech.com).

In late January or February, the generic mouthpiece (like the one I tried) will go on sale for about $60, although the exact price has not been determined.

Both are beefed up so that a golfer cannot fully clench his or her jaw. Not only does this ease tension, but Bite Tech vice president Jeff Van Wagenen said it prevents or counteracts the release of acids that can elevate stress and diminish power.

The mouthguard phenomenon is all about fighting our tendency to bite down hard and sometimes grind our teeth.

The difference between the two ArmourBite products: It is slightly difficult to talk clearly with the less expensive mouthpiece. When Van Wagenen put the $495 version in his mouth, it was impossible to see or hear its presence.

I cast my vote for the custom mouthguard, although I am guessing the inexpensive model works just as well. Life expectancy of either model is one year.

While I was standing in the Bite Tech booth, long drive professional Trevor Consavage of Orlando (he competes on the long drive circuit) approached with questions.

“The long drive guys have been talking a lot about this,” he said. “I want to find out if it really works.”

He bought one, and off he went.

Apparently no one has submitted the mouthpiece to the U.S. Golf Association for approval, but I am guessing there is no way it will gain a blanket approval. It’s too easy to classify this as an artificial aid.

If a golfer has a letter from a dentist (hey, I am among millions who wear a mouthguard at night), maybe this would be viewed differently. However, I doubt it.

Regardless, based on my brief experience, I can tell you it’s a great practice device.

One more thing: Let’s give credit to visionary golf instructor Don Trahan, father of PGA Tour player D.J. Trahan. More than 10 years ago, the elder Trahan was trying to persuade his students to wear mouthpieces on the golf course. He was mostly unsuccessful.

Now the golf mouthpiece or mouthguard is back. Look, Mom, no cavities.  

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