High school is rough. Especially if the high-schooler spends a lot of time on the football field.

THE ISSUE: A study found that high school football players wearing store-bought mouth guards were more than twice as likely to suffer mild traumatic brain injuries than those wearing properly fitted, custom mouth guards.

LOCAL IMPACT: As a community service project, a local dental clinic has offered free custom-fitted mouth guards to the Shawnee district's high school football team of 76 players, to help keep them safer during practice and games throughout the school year.

High school is rough.

Especially if the high-schooler spends a lot of time on the football field.

Literally just down the road, the owner of a local dental practice in Shawnee, Dr. Andrew Minnigh, knows this.

Years ago, while in college at The University of Oklahoma, Minnigh shadowed a dentist in Norman who would make custom-fitted mouth guards for football players.

Minnigh held onto that experience, tucking it away, because it was a good idea.

Now, with a practice of his own, and making it a habit to do a couple community service projects a year, Minnigh thought back on that good idea.

“Custom-fitted mouth guards can help counter or minimize concussions,” Minnigh said. “There's a scientific basis for it.”

Minnigh said the thickness of custom mouth guards makes a big difference.

Research has indicated that mouthguard thickness is a factor in the level of protection from mouth guards. The average thickness of custom-made mouth guards worn in a study was 3.5 millimeters, while the average thickness of the over-the-counter mouth guards was only 1.65 millimeters.

The findings showed that 8.3 percent of the athletes wearing using over-the-counter standard mouth guards suffered brain injuries. However, only 3.6 percent of the players wearing custom mouth guards suffered concussions.

Minnigh said his community service venture was more of a man-hour type thing, than monetarily costly.

“Once the vendors found out what I was doing, they were good about giving me a good deal on supplies,” he said.

The endeavor took most of the last two months —working dozens of ball players into Minnigh's already busy daily schedule.

He said he would see each player at least a couple times — first to create a custom model, then again later for a fitting and adjustment with the mouth guard itself.

He said the process was painless for him and his crew.

“The students were all so polite and well-mannered,” he said. “It was a fun project.”

Minnigh said his handful of employees were extremely helpful in making the effort go smoothly — organizing and scheduling fittings.

“I'm glad I did it; I would do it again — maybe offer custom colors or logos,” he said.

Caroline Skinner, with the Shawnee Quarterback Club, said she was excited when she was approached by fellow Junior Service League (JSL) member Annie Minnigh — sharing her desire for her husband to provide mouth guards for the entire Shawnee High School football team.

“As Quarterback Club, we were immediately ecstatic that they would provide such a personalized service to our players,” Skinner said. “The coaches were all for it, as it's been shown to decrease head injury.”

Many Shawnee players do not have access to such care, she said, and this was a really awesome service to provide for the players.

“Dr. Minnigh's office was extremely easy to work with this summer to assure every player who wanted a custom-fitted mouth guard was able to get one … up until the last day,” Skinner said.

She said the Quarterback Club spends most of its money on feeding the players throughout the season, so to have a local dentist who wants to give the boys something extra is very special, she said.

“Their efforts will definitely positively impact our Army of 76 the entire season,” she said. “We cannot say thank you enough to Dr. Minnigh and his staff.”

Shawnee Public Schools Superintendent Dr. April Grace said all school districts rely heavily on community partnerships for any of their programs.

“We appreciate the partnerships we have with all of our stakeholders, as well as community businesses, agencies and foundations,” she said. “The services and donations they make — either monetarily or with their time and products — enhances opportunities for our students.”