‘An air bag for the brain’

Revolutionary mouth guard could make quite an impact

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After watching the movie Concussion , starring Will Smith, Ralph Meintjes became motivated to find a way to help protect those playing contact sports.
As a dental technician, Meintjes has been trained in making custom mouth guards.
Taking his technical knowledge further, together with the Propella Business Incubator, he has come up with a product that he believes will revolutionise safety in sport.
The bespoke silicone-based Smart Guard, which is nearing its final prototype stage, will record and transmit information related to impact that may result in brain injuries sustained during play.
Unlike most shop-bought mouth guards, the Smart Guard will be customised to fit one person and all the information will be recorded and stored via a mobile app.
It creates a separation between the upper and lower teeth sets.
“We’ve almost created an air bag for the brain.
“When the lower jaw slams into the upper jaw – and that impact hits into the brain – it could lead to a cerebral haemorrhage and other head and neck injuries.
“We created a cushioning for the mouth that takes the maximum shock absorption.
“The Smart Guard offers early-impact detection in real time.
“So when the actual impact occurs, for example when a rugby tackle is made, there is something that can let a coach or parent know immediately there is something wrong – and the player must be taken off the field,” Meintjes explained.
The guard is fitted with a microchip and an LED light goes off to show that a certain threshold has been surpassed.
“On impact, the light will go on and each colour will indicate different readings,” he said.
The dad of two, who hails from East London but has been living in Uitenhage for the last 22 years, took gold in the “most promising start-up or newcomer” category at the Advanced Manufacturing and Innovation Awards in November 2018.
He said he had noted an awakening about the importance of neuroscience and individuals becoming increasingly aware of the dangers of contact sports.
“We are offering protection because we need our kids to play sport, but we need to protect them,” Meintjes said.
The Smart Guard is still being tweaked to improve its battery life and silicone refinement.
It will then go for final testing before it moves to pre-commercialisation.
Propella senior industrial adviser Grant Minnie said looking at sporting codes – particularly where contact sport was an issue – a device of this nature could have a significant impact on the health and wellbeing of youngsters.
“There is a lot of impact that takes place, even at primary school level, that people might not even be aware of.
“And it’s the cumulative effect of these impacts that is really doing damage, such as creating dementia.
“The sooner one can pick up any impact on one’s brain, it goes a long way in improving the minds of people,” Minnie said.
He said being part of the Smart Guard’s development was an exciting project for the Propella.
“Being a smart incubator for a smart city – smart healthcare is an area of interest for Propella itself.
“This particular product gives a clear indication of the type of technologies that can be created in this environment,” he said.

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