Kenjon Barner didn't want to make the same mistake twice. Not when it was so avoidable.
The Eagles' punt returner blamed an ill-fitting, pacifier-style mouth guard after the Birds' divisional round victory over Atlanta as one of the reasons his teammates couldn't hear him yell "poison," meaning he didn't want to touch the punt that was dropping into a crowd far short of him.
The mix-up on special teams led to the Falcons' only touchdown of the day Jan. 13. And Barner needed a new, custom mouth guard by the next weekend, when the Eagles would take on the Vikings in the NFC Championship in Philadelphia.
Problem is, fabricating a custom mouth guard takes time, something Barner and the Birds didn't have. But with the help of a mouth-guard company in New Mexico, a Rittenhouse Square dentist, and some expensive 3-D printing technology, Barner was able to get a custom-fit mouthpiece in time for the game against Minnesota. His new guard sports decorative fangs on the front and the letters I.G.I.T. on the side — "in God I trust."
"It's almost as if I'm not playing with a mouthpiece in," Barner told reporters just after getting his new guard.
The Monday morning after the Atlanta game, one of Barner's trainers approached Delano Romero, the founder and CEO of Albuquerque-based Damage Control Mouthguards, about Barner's needs. Romero knew there was a way to fabricate a custom mouth guard without actually getting a physical impression of Barner's teeth.
He ran a quick Google search of Philadelphia dentists adept in 3-D technology and found Peter Hunt, a Rittenhouse Square dentist. Barner sat in Hunt's office for 15 minutes, where the dental team swept the inside of his mouth using a TRIOS "intraoral scanner" manufactured by 3 Shape, a company that specializes in 3-D scanners and software for dentists and labs.
The technology, which Hunt said cost about $45,000, allows dentists like Hunt to scan the inside of a patient's mouth without having the patient undergo the discomfort of a traditional molded impression. Hunt shipped off the detailed image files to New Mexico, where Damage Control Mouthguards took over. Once Romero received the scans, his team converted the images into a file compatible with 3-D printing software. By Monday night, Barner's scans were in the printer in New Mexico, and by Tuesday morning, Romero had an accurate plastic model of the inside of Barner's mouth.
From there, his team hand-fabricated the mouth guard over the model through a thermal forming process. Barner sent over the design he wanted and Damage Control wrapped up the guard. They overnighted it to Philadelphia, and Barner had a new mouth guard in just three days.
In the end, Hunt and Romero like to think they might have played a very small role in the Eagles' blowout win against the Vikings to earn a berth in the Super Bowl. Romero's glad it worked out. But a part of him still wishes the NFC championship would have gone the other way.