Wearing a small plastic mouthpiece during exercise could boost athletic performance, say researchers at The Citadel who are studying the mouth gear.

Dena Garner -- a professor in the Health, Exercise and Sports Science Department -- and others at the military college have been studying the mouthpiece's affect on different aspects of performance since 2004. They want to know not only if it works, but how it works, she said.

The mouthpiece is smaller than traditional mouth guards, Garner said. It moves the jaw slightly down and forward.

Some of the studies currently under way are looking at how the mouthpiece affects resistance-training, flexibility and pistol shooting accuracy, she said.

Garner said one of the things researchers are studying is the mouthpiece's affect on levels of the hormone cortisol.

Cortisol is associated with stress, she said, and it increases when people exercise. When a person wears the mouthpiece, cortisol levels seem to drop back to a normal level more quickly, she said. That suggests the mouthpiece can boost muscle repair.

The Citadel is conducting the research for Bite Tech Inc., a Minneapolis-based technology company. The company recently partnered with Under Armour to release custom performance mouthwear.

And Bite Tech has donated $200,000 to the school to upgrade and expand a laboratory in Deas Hall. The Dr. Hank Cross Human Performance Laboratory was dedicated Friday. It will be used not only for research on the mouthpiece, but other health and exercise research projects as well, school officials said.

Citadel cadet Matthew Roughgarden, a member of the college's pistol team, is participating in the research. He wears a mouthpiece during some of his practice sessions. His shooting performance results are recorded, and researchers will determine if his performance is better when he's wearing the mouthpiece.

"It's not an intrusion," he said of the mouthpiece. If he learns that his accuracy is better while wearing it, he would gladly use it regularly, he said.

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491.