March 13, 2020
Dr. Michael Wright has gotten lots of attention for blinged-out mouthguards he made for pro athletes.
The mouthpieces that the D.C.-area dentist fabricated for NFL stars caught the attention of the sports world, earning TMZ headlines like “NFL STARS DROPPING MAJOR $$$$ ON DIAMOND & GOLD MOUTHPIECES.”
While the shine and client list of Pro Bowl and Super Bowl stars helped turn heads, Dr. Wright said his focus has always been on player safety. He’s spoken at football camps and spoken with players about concussion and safety awareness.
“Of all the sports equipment that there is out on the market, the mouthguard is the most overlooked,” he said; the guards can help protect against concussions, jaw fracture, teeth fracture, as well as head and neck injury.
Dr. Wright’s protective pieces grew out of the Baltimore-based University of Maryland School of Dentistry alum’s treating NFL players. They play in a league that does not require mouthguards.
After making headlines, he said he received calls from athletes of all sorts with requests to make custom mouthguards, including youth. But given the time required and issues of affordability, it wasn’t feasible to be able to fulfill all the requests.
So he set out to design something that could make it to market.
Acquiring and testing all of the mouthguards available at sporting goods stores, Dr. Wright found that there was a need on the market for something better, and that took the design a dentist could provide into account. After developing a novel design and clip assembly, he received two patents.
“I was really passionate about getting something out to the masses that was very efficient, and effective in providing safety to our athletes,” he said.
Dr. Wright was also discussing possibilities about commercializing the technology with the University of Maryland. A tragedy would further galvanize the effort toward safety. After Terps football player Jordan McNair died of heatstroke after showing signs of extreme exhaustion at a practice in 2018, Dr. Wright was resolved.
“It was in our backyard. It really hurt,” he said. “I wanted to do something more.”
He partnered with Dr. Radi Masri, a faculty member at the School of Dentistry, and Dr. James E. Whitney II of AmalfiAcoustics to continue development. Now, they run a company called The WrightGuard Innovation Corporation to commercialize the technology, and licensed technology from the university.
The smart mouthguard they developed is embedded with sensors that can monitor biometrics, such as force of impact, levels of hydration and body temperature. The capabilities include transmitting signals to the smartphone of a parent, trainer or coach that can serve as an indicator an athlete may need attention.
For an injury like a concussion, it can mark a shift from needing to rely on the athlete for warning signs, Dr. Wright said. He likened it to a seat belt — a protective measure that might not be the “end-all” to prevent harm, but can certainly help.