Manny Pacquiao’s priceless mouthpieces
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - June 12, 2018 - 12:00am

The design that Filipino artist Jun Aquino sketched to distinguish the mouthpiece that Manny Pacquiao will use for his fight against WBA welterweight champion Lucas Matthysse of Argentina in Kuala Lumpur on July 15 is a fiery rendition of a clenched fist made to look like a fireball in a blaze of red and orange.

It is laminated on the gumshield that Los Angeles-based dentist Dr. Ed de la Vega manufactured for Pacquiao and will be unveiled during the final press conference a few days before the coming fight in Malaysia.   

“Manny’s custom-made mouthguards are priceless,” said De la Vega. “I give them to him as a gift from a friend who cares for his safety. I don’t charge Filipino boxers who come to my humble offices for mouthguards from Manny to the newbies. The cost of a mouthguard ranges from $40 for young school kids involved in school sports to a high of $500 for the type I supply better-known boxers like (Julio Cesar) Chavez Jr. and Beibut Shumenov.”

De la Vega, an expert in preventive, cosmetic and reconstructive dental surgery, is arriving from Los Angeles to meet with Pacquiao in General Santos City on June 18. In the US, he drives a pick-up truck which is his version of an outdoor advertising vehicle for “dentist-fitted custom-made athletic mouthpieces…to protect your teeth and minimize concussions.” He will join Buboy Fernandez and Justin Fortune in Pacquiao’s corner for the Matthysse fight as a cutman.

De la Vega, 77, said there are three kinds of mouthguards – stock, boil and bite and custom-made. “The stock type is one size fits all,” said De la Vega. “No attempt is made to fit it. Take it out from the container and place it in the mouth. Actually, it doesn’t do anything but give the athlete a false sense of security. The boil and bite type is something you buy in sporting goods stores. You soak it in hot water to soften and it forms in the mouth, using tongue and cheek and by pressing the cheeks. This is better than the stock type but it offers no concrete protection due to varying thickness brought about by the uneven biting pressure when it is formed. The third type is custom-made. It is designed, fabricated ad fitted by sports dentists or under their direct supervision. It’s the best because it complies with all the parameters of what a mouthguard should be, including thickness, border extensions and occlusion or bite. It also allows custom aesthetic designs with colors and decors.”

Aquino, a UP graduate, was the art director and editorial cartoonist for the Philippine Free Press until its closure in 2011. He has made several Pacquiao paintings one of which was given as a gift by the Senator himself to former US President Obama and another to Muhammad Ali’s daughter Laila. Aquino once held a one-man art exhibit of his Pacquiao paintings in Las Vegas. In 2016, he was enshrined in the West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame in the Art of Boxing category and joined renowned legends Henry Armstrong, Bobby Chacon, Genaro Hernandez, Mike Weaver, Israel Vazquez, Jerry Quarry, Mando Ramos, the late WBC president Jose Sulaiman and son Mauricio and promoter Aileen Eaton among the inductees that year.

De la Vega was born and raised in Arayat, Pampanga. He earned his doctorate in dental medicine at UP in 1964 then two years later, pursued graduate training at McGill University Hospital in Montreal. De la Vega moved to Los Angeles in 1968 to enrol in dental school at the University of Southern California. After graduating from USC in 1971, he opened his practice in the LA area. 

“From finishing at UP, I joined my father’s practice but I left our country because at that time, there were no opportunities for grad school,” he said. “I didn’t think I knew enough about dentistry in spite of being No. 8 at the Philippine dental boards. So I went to Canada. Then, I moved to LA but found out my DMD degree was not recognized by the state. I went back to dental school at USC and earned my DDS. That was the best thing I did for myself. Five years after I opened my practice in LA, I was appointed member of the examining committee of the Dental Board and in 1978, I was elevated to member of the board by the State Governor and I served for four years. In 2000, I was elected president of the LA Dental Society, the first Filipino given that opportunity to lead. To date, no other Filipino has been elected.” 

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