Local dentist George Garbis has helped develop the ThermoPact MouthShield, created with the aim to absorb more energy than the typical mouthguard and change colors when an athlete reaches a core body temperature of 102 degrees, sending a signal that he or she needs to cool off.
Garbis, who works out of Columbia, Md., teamed up with medical engineer Dave Szabo and athletic trainer Viron Wildy to develop the ThermoPact MouthShield. Garbis and Wildy attended Gaithersburg High School together. Nick Griner (multimedia communications) and Emily Goldstein (branding) are also part of the team.
The ThermoPact MouthShield can be preordered here.
Garbis, 50, spoke to PressBox about the product, how it came to be and more. This has been edited for content and clarity.
PressBox: What is this product? Why is it unique?
George Garbis: First off, I’ve been a dentist for 20 years. I’ve been a dad for 22. I’ve been a coach for my son, who plays football, since he was 5. One of the things that I was always not pleased with was what was over the counter to go buy for mouthguards. I never was pleased. The boil-and-bite, Shock Doctor, all of those, they just weren’t doing the job. I saw that, whether it was in my dental office, on the field or one of my kids. About four or five years ago, I started toying with some materials, just messing around trying to make a better guard. Personally, I would always make it for my son. I would make a mold, do it the old-fashioned way and just make him a real well-fitting one. I was toying with some materials and was messing around, and I came up with this, which is a patent-pending sort of combination of materials that absorbs basically about 20 to 50 percent more impact than your standard over-the-counter boil-and-bite mouthguard like your Shock Doctor and that kind of thing.
Just about that time, though, we had an unfortunate incident with [Jordan] McNair, when he passed away. I’m a Maryland grad. I was born in Montgomery County, work in Howard County. It hit hard. We’re a big Maryland family. My partner, Viron, who’s a trainer out in California, we were like God, what can there be — something visual — that can say, “Hey, your temperature is getting up there. Why don’t we just sit you down and rest?” So again, we started toying with all these ideas and we basically came up with a blend. The guard itself is black and when your core body temperature reaches about 101, 102, it begins to change color and then you can see the color underneath of it. It’s sort of a warning. Physiologically, it shouldn’t matter how warm it is outside. Your body should sweat and cool itself and keep it regulated. But overheating is caused by that mechanism failing. You’re not sweating. You’re not getting rid of that excess heat. Your core body temperature goes up, and that’s when you get the danger of overheating, heat exhaustion, heatstroke and potentially death.
That was sort of the premise of why we did it. COVID kind of put the brakes on a lot of things, but it was almost a blessing because we were able to really do a lot of research and really dive into the product. It is made here in the USA. We got [Micro Tool Company], a manufacturer out in Pennsylvania, to start making it, and then we were invited to the Big 33 [Football Classic, an all-star game featuring high school players from Maryland and Pennsylvania]. I’ll tell you, it was an amazing experience. We got to fit all 200 players with the guard. We got a tremendous amount of feedback to the point where it actually made me change the way I’m telling people how to mold this. It’s not really a boil-and-bite. It’s more like a boil-and-mold around your teeth. After it comes out of your mouth after you’ve molded it, it really looks like an impression that the dentist would’ve done. There’s a lot of research that shows the better something fits, the more it protects. If you add the heat element to this, it is a unique guard. There’s nothing like it on the market. Nothing. And we’ve looked, and we’ve looked. So we’ve filed our patent and we’re kind of waiting on that. But we really felt it was time that we really started spreading the word.
PB: What kind of feedback did you get at the Big 33?
GG: Because the supply chain has really messed us up right now, we didn’t have as much supply. We had enough to go up and fit these players. We went up there with no expectations. They just rolled out the red carpet for us. They put us in great positions. They allowed us to fit the kids. We got to go one-on-one with the kids. We realized that especially moms and dads of athletes really were interested in this product. And then we saw that the trainers were, and then the coaches got interested. Literally all weekend, we were in nonstop conversations about how we did this, how does this work, does it really change colors. … We got a lot of contacts now with lacrosse, which I think will be a big plus for this product, not just football. Lacrosse will be a big one as well as field hockey. It was just really great because personally, I’m a scientist. Whatever information we get, this product is going to change and evolve. But my goal was if I would put this in my son’s mouth that I would put it in another kid’s mouth, and it was ready. It was ready to be distributed.
PB: How are sales going?
GG: We’re going to get a huge bulk of it in the beginning of July. When we went up there [to the Big 33], we said, ‘OK, what are we going to do? Let’s try preordering. Let’s give them a discount, the people that are interested.’ We probably sold about 150, 200 guards, which is great. Through social media, we’re trying to pump it out. … We’re really new to this. We’re trying to figure out how to get that word out and get more orders in and get more guards to players. Now, I will tell you one of the things we did discuss is getting them in bulk to coaches. So if someone were to order 100 for their team, we would get them out in bulk. And a lot of these local teams, I’ve told coaches, “I’ll come out and do the boil-and-fit myself,” just like we did at the Big 33. I think it’s a great way to kind of show them how to do it because I will tell you 95 percent of the time, no matter what kid or parent do these boil-and-fit guards, they do it wrong. We’re working on a video for the website … on how to do that, how to do it properly.
PB: How do you go from a dentist to an entrepreneur?
GG: It was quite organic. The idea was there. I was toying with it. I’ve got a lot of friends who are businessmen, who are entrepreneurs. I got a lot of feedback from them. “This is what you should do, this is how you should market it.” It was really us sort of trial-and-error and reading up on things. I’ve got a lot of friends in the business, so making a lot of phone calls and just listening to people. But I will tell you one thing that I’ve really learned in business and products is whatever product you think you have, when you’re done developing it, it’s nothing like how you started. You have to be open to making those changes. … We were listening to people. How does it fit? Should we make it bigger? Should we make it smaller? Should we make it softer? All of these ideas. If I showed you what we started with and what we ended up with, completely different. It was really the help of my friends that were all sort of in different types of businesses.
PB: Do you think this product is revolutionary in terms of preventing heat-related illnesses?
GG: As a coach and a parent, I’ve seen kids collapse, not even knowing that this kid wasn’t feeling well. The goal with this is just look at the kid. “Hey, he’s not feeling well. Is that guard changing? Let’s get him out.” If that guard is changing, it means that that kid is at least 100 degrees internally. They need to cool off. It literally is just a check. It’s not a medical device, right? It’s not something that’s going to tell you you’re having heatstroke. All it is is just another check. I really feel if we save one kid — just one kid — then I’ve done my job. I’ve done what I wanted it to do.
Photo Credits: Courtesy of ThermoPact MouthShield