Milos Raonic getting a mouthful of help at the Australian Open

Canada's Milos Raonic bites his mouthguard during his fourth round match against Switzerland's Stan Wawrinka at the Australian Open tennis tournament at Melbourne Park, Australia, January 25, 2016. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

By Jerry Langton

You might have noticed that Milos Raonic looks a little different at the Australian Open this year. There’s an added zip in his serve, a spring in his step and, clearly, something in his mouth.

The Canadian tennis sensation is wearing a mouthguard. It’s not there to protect his teeth from sudden impact, but to straighten his jaw. Raonic suffers from temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD), which means that his jaw’s resting position is not in line with its optimum bite position.

That, according to Dr. Eddie Siman, Beverly Hills-based dentist and TMD expert, can lead to all kinds of health problems. “Remember that the body, especially the muscles, are dynamic and interconnected,” he says. “The tension and spasms that start in your jaw with TMD can affect every part of your body.” Those effects can include severe headaches as well as joint and muscle pain.

After an injury and surgery-plagued 2015, Raonic had a custom mouthguard made. He had become convinced that his persistent back problems came from his jaw misalignment and teeth grinding. Siman agrees. “Think of it as wearing one shoe that’s taller than the other,” he says. “You have to compensate for that; and it will forces your muscles into spasm and that leads to pain and limited movement.” He says that TMD is commonplace and often misdiagnosed. Its effects on muscles are usually treated with painkillers or massage, which only leave the root cause of the problem in place.

The mouthguard seems to be working for Raonic. He put in a strong showing in Australia, beating No. 4-ranked Stan Warwinka in a thrilling five-set victory in the fourth round to set up a quarterfinal against France's Gaël Monfils (3:30 a.m. Eastern start Wednesday). More important, he’s reporting no injuries.

And it’s not just backaches and missing teeth that mouthguards can help prevent. Los Angeles and Phoenix-based Force Impact Technologies has developed FitGuard, a mouthguard that uses an accelerometer to measure the severity of head impacts.

Since concussions have become a major talking point in sports, especially among young people, FitGuard offers an early-warning system for head injuries — its makers call it “a check engine light for the brain.”

The mouthguard comes with an LED light that shines green, yellow or red depending on the severity of the hit. At the same time, a set of data regarding the severity of the hit is sent via Bluetooth to a smartphone app that can be used to help coaches and parents make decisions about a player’s health.

Of course, the FitGuard is only measuring the severity of impacts, it does not monitor the wearer’s brain. “What we’re not doing is diagnosing concussions,” said Bob Merriman, Force Impact Technologies’ cofounder and chief operating officer. “Rather, we’re simply trying to call attention to hard impacts that youth officials and coaches may have missed.”

One sport that has long embraced mouthguards is boxing, and its foremost practitioner, retired champion Floyd Mayweather, is something of a connoisseur. Mayweather has his mouthguards custom made by Manhattan’s Dr. Lee Gause at a price tag of $25,000 each.

Not all of that money goes to technology, though. The ever-flamboyant Mayweather orders his mouthguards with gold flakes, diamonds and even $100 bills embedded in them. Less flashy mouthguards from Gause’s Iceberg Guards can be had for as little as $230.