Kiwi invents concussion-detecting mouthguard

Smart mouthguard
Smart mouthguard

A young New Zealander has won an award after inventing what could be a game-changer in dealing with sports concussions.

It comes amid growing concerns about the long-term health effects of big knocks on the field.

The impact of big knocks in rugby and other contact sports is becoming a growing concern for athletes and doctors with recent revelations players with a history of concussion are more likely to suffer brain problems after retirement.

Researchers are also now investigating a potential link between concussion and dementia.

A nasty clash of heads forced Chiefs player Ben Afeaki to retire from the game and an amateur player's own experience with concussion got him thinking.

"I've been working on this for one year - I completed it for my honours project," says mouthguard designer Spencer Buchanan.

The former industrial design student has created a smart mouthguard that can actually detect the moment concussion occurs.

"The mouth guard itself has built in motion sensors.  When they sustain an impact over a certain threshold the doctor is notified of who the player is," says Mr Buchanan.

Information showing where the knock was is sent to an iPad and the side-line doctor then decides if the player should be taken off the field.

An AUT study recently discovered a link between concussion and brain problems later in life, and that's just the concussions that are detected

"For every one that we're seeing we're actually missing about six that are going unidentified because people don't recognise the signs.  It's a lot more prevalent than what people realise," says Concussion Researcher Doug King.

Mr Buchanan has just won a James Dyson design award for his mouthguard with the judges said it had 'the wow factor'.

"I think he's got the potential to go right to the top.  It is a product that really addresses a problem and something that is in the media a lot at the moment with the effects of concussion," says James Dyson NZ Award judge Gareth Lauchlan.

He won a vacuum cleaner that time, but if he wins the international leg of the competition, Mr Buchanan will score $60,000.