by Emma Smith 6 min read

Named one of Inc. 5000 fastest growing companies in the United States, Akervall Technologies Inc (ATI) are the manufacturers of SISU Sports Mouth Guards. 

SISU Mouthguards are a fantastic innovation that solves age-old problems with mouthguards. They are thin (1.6 mm or 2.4 mm thick), they allow you to speak, and they come flat!

 

Here is a little bit more on the technical side:

"As ATI says, SISU mouthguards are made from non-compressible thermo-polymer and only 1.6 mm thin, SISU Mouth Guards are engineered to withstand impact. Powered by Diffusix™ Technology, SISU Mouth Guards deflect the forces of impact. On impact, the perforated surface of the guards oscillates and the forces are redirected away from teeth into scientifically engineered Crumple Zones where the forces are absorbed into the non-compressible surface of the guard. This unique design empowers SISU NextGEN to protect the athletes from even the toughest hits".

We were delighted to get an interviews with SISU Mouthguard founders about their journey, technology and why you should buy SISU over any generic mouthguard brand.

An onto the interview....

SISU Mouthguard interview

 

Can you tell us a little bit about the background of your company and the inspiration for the product?

Jan (President, Chief Medical Officer & Majority Owner)  and Sassa Akervall (Chief Executive Officer & Majority Owner) moved from Sweden to Ann Arbor, MI USA in 2004 together with their two young children. Jan, an Ear-Nose-Throat doctor with cancer as a sub-speciality had a job offer to come work in the USA. Sassa was at that time a freelance writer but also first and foremost a Mom with homework, lunchboxes and Mom-shuttling on the daily schedule.

The parent company, Akervall Technologies, manufacturers dental protection for sports (SISU Mouthguards), dentistry (SOVA Night Guards) and medical use (IntuGuard). The company was founded about a decade ago when our founder Dr.Jan Akervall developed a mouthguard to protect his patients’ teeth during endoscopic and transoral surgeries. This worked so incredibly well that to this day he still hasn't broken a single tooth, which is otherwise very common during these kinds of surgery.

Knowing how well the mouthguard worked for surgery, we decided to try it out on our children when they were started sports in school. There, it was an instant success among teammates and opposing teams. That is when we realized we had something we could take to the sporting goods market. So that is what we did, in 2009.

Johannes Schwank (Chief Scientific Officer) grew up in Austria, and studied chemistry at the University of Innsbruck. He came to the US as a Fulbright scholar, and ended up staying as a faculty member at the University of Michigan where he has been teaching chemical engineering ever since.

What were the first steps towards getting product ready?

The manufacturing was outsourced, but sales and distribution were handled in Jan and Sassa’s home, and the research and development was done in Johannes' basement. We were lucky enough to find a manufacturer that put the development cost on the piece price of the guards which helped us focus our resources on other things such as packaging and marketing.

What has been the hardest part of the development so far?

I would say the move towards built-in electronics in the up and coming new generation of mouthguards as it required an entirely new skill set.

SISU Mouthguard Founders Interview

Can you talk to us about the innovation process?

Combining high-performance materials with elegant engineering solutions, grounded in solid market research to come up with products that serve the customers in the best way, and at the same time striving to be the global golden standard of new mouthguard technology.

Clearly you’ve done a lot of scientific research to develop your product, including impact tests, can you describe the process and how you developed the product using impact tests?

Early in the development of the mouthguards, we conducted biomechanics measurements where we mounted mouthguards on the fake teeth of a dummy head that had multiple sensors built in and was protected by a military helmet. This contraption was dropped in a test stand from different predetermined heights, and we measured the force transfer from the jawbone to the skull upon impact. The impact energy absorption and dissipation ability of mouthguard materials was also tested on flat samples of mouthguard materials using standard pendulum impact tests. The material itself has undergone many different tests to determine its properties and to optimize its protective behaviour.

Do you know how much impact energy in joules it takes to damage teeth?

It depends on a lot of parameters, many of them depending on the health of the teeth and gums of a person, so there is not one single impact energy value that one could cite. It also depends on the direction of a hit, and how big of an area is affected.

Was the reason you’ve developed such a strong mouthguard because previous mouthguards weren’t sufficient or caused injury?

Despite widespread use of mouthguards in sports, there are more than one million dental injuries per year, and dental injuries are the most common type of oro-facial injuries in sports. The lifetime costs for treatment of serious dental injuries are

$15,000 - $20,000 per tooth, since individuals who damage a tooth end up with multiple visits to the dentists, and downstream periodontal disease or other dental problems often leading to the need for implants. We recognised that a better mouthguard was needed to drastically lower the rate of injuries, and thanks to SISU, the injury rates have gone down dramatically. The grade of protection provided by a given mouthguard is predominantly governed by its capacity to diminish impact force transmission to teeth, i.e. the mechanical behaviour of the material from which it is fabricated. Specifically, the impact and tensile strength properties are good indicators. Professional grade, dentist made guards provide a high level of protection, but they are very expensive, costing several hundreds of dollars. We saw an opportunity to offer the consumers a low-cost guard that works as well as the expensive professional-grade guards, thanks to a new high-performance material and patented technology of the guard.

The holes in the mouthguard look strategically placed, is this to help with impact dissipation or breathability or the ability to talk or all the above?

All the above. The placement of the perforations is by no means random. The perforation patterns were developed with extensive multi-physics computer simulations, figuring out how to best redirect and dissipate impact forces. This has led to a whole new concept of how to protect teeth that has resulted in several patents.

How long does the mouthguard last?

The material itself will last for years, no problem. However, we recommend replacing the guard every year with a new one for hygiene reasons. Even when the guard is regularly cleaned, eventually some contamination from frequent exposure to saliva, germs in the mouth, and from handling is unavoidable.

SISU Mouthguard Lacrosse USA

How many times can it be remoulded before it starts to affect its impact absorption?

Based on tests conducted in our laboratory, the mouth guards can be remoulded at least 20 times, thanks to a special shape-memory built into the mouthguard that will always bring it back to its original shape when immersed in hot water, so it looks exactly like the brand-new mouthguard looked when it came out of the package. So, no worries if the first few fitting attempts are not successful. Under normal use and with proper care, the material will never lose its ability to return to its original shape and it will maintain its impact absorption.

How do people choose between a 1.6mm and a 2.4mm?

The 2.4 mm thick mouthguard is intended for sports where severe blows are expected, such as in martial arts or boxing. The 1.6 mm guard is perfect for sports where comfort, and unimpeded talking and drinking with the guard in place are desired.

Both guards will provide superior protection, but of course the 2.4 mm guard is more heavy duty and can absorb higher impact forces.

How is it so strong when it’s so thin?

There are two reasons for the exceptional strength of the guard. First, it is made from a high-performance material that has undergone special processing to give it unique properties. Second, the guard has a patented shape with strategically located perforations that help dissipate impact forces and redirect them and spread them out over a larger area, thereby preventing impact forces getting fully transmitted to the teeth. Conventional mouthguards rely on cushioning, but to gain some degree of protection, one must use a thick layer of cushioning material, and this makes conventional guards so uncomfortable.

What next? Will you take the same application and apply it to shin guards or helmets for example?

We have many exciting new products in the development pipeline, all the way from even more revolutionary concepts for dental protection to new ways to protect other parts of the body.

Is there anything else you think our readers would like to know?

SISU is aFinnishword that stands forbravery,resilience,hardiness,determination,grit,and tenacity.

Thank you to the Founders of SISU for taking the time to answer Kit Radar's questions. It sounds like there are many more exciting products to come from this innovative company, so watch this space for updates! 
Emma Smith
Emma Smith


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