Dr. Stephen Smith, director of the Temporomandibular Orthopedics Center at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, has for several years been fitting some members of the Philadelphia Eagles with his custom-made protective mouthpieces and "bite-adjusting" the regular mouth guards of others. "What we have been finding through the use of mouthpieces is an increase in body muscle strength," says Smith. "Even if you take someone who has a good solid bite to start with, he gets better muscle bracing with the mouthpiece. And we definitely had fewer concussions. In fact, the players who wore mouth guards all the time have had none. Physically you have a change in the stress factor. It seems to be a very deep-seated neurological change, a change in the electrical firing pattern from the motor cortex in the brain. With the mouthpiece in, the muscle is suddenly stronger. In some cases, you get a doubling in muscle strength all over the body."
One of Kaufman's mentors in his study of TMJ syndrome has been Dr. Harold Gelb, the former director of a temporomandibular joint clinic in Manhattan. Dr. Gelb has dealt with TMJ cases for 25 years, primarily working to cure such problems as backaches and headaches. "My practice deals strictly with pain," he says. Interest in relieving pain is only part of what led Kaufman to his study of the MORA's use in sports. Six years ago it hit him that his profession might actually be doing harm by straightening a person's teeth solely with braces without giving much thought to repositioning the jaw as well. So, for these patients and others with head, neck and back aches from TMJ distress, he prescribed MORAs. To his surprise, some of the high school and junior high school athletes he treated came back saying that while wearing MORAs they were able to hit a baseball farther or lift more weight. Kaufman took to studying these unexpected side benefits of the device and now, several years later, his offices at the Medical Center in Oceanside are becoming a mecca for athletes.
A couple of months ago, Kaufman was visited by Al Oerter, who lives in nearby West Islip and often trains at C.W. Post College. Oerter won the gold medal in the discus in four consecutive Olympics—1956, '60, '64 and '68—and now, at the age of 43, is pursuing a comeback.
"You are overdosed," Kaufman said as he examined Oerter's teeth.
"I have a history of upper-spine problems," Oerter said. "I had to wear a cervical collar for eight years of competition. I don't wear it anymore because of the muscle I've been putting on in my shoulders through new training techniques, but the spine problem is still there."
"You should see a change with this," Kaufman said, producing a MORA he had made for another patient.
Oerter, manager for Grumman Data Systems Corp., began acting as if he were investigating a contract proposal: "Do I wear it all the time? What are the dangers? I've been lifting weights a lot lately, and when I feel really strong, I worry about knee problems."
Kaufman: "Your body will work more efficiently and you may be able to take more stress."
Oerter: "Should I bite down very hard?"
Kaufman: "If you bite hard normally."