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The AFM has a proud history of managing change rather than being victimized by it. We find strength in adversity, and when the going gets tough, we get creative - all on your behalf.

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Home » Resources » Health » Dental Care Should Be a Regular Gig

Dental Care Should Be a Regular Gig


It’s not the first thing musicians think of when it comes to being healthy and fit to play, but regular dental checkups and professional teeth cleaning should happen every six months, or at least annually. Wind players, especially, must be mindful of any changes in the shape and position of their teeth and bite. Consider the cost of neglect before you skip your next dental appointment.

It is not uncommon for musicians to experience temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ), muscle strain, or focal dystonia (failure of a muscle to respond). As the result of continuous playing—and with age—tooth and mouth structure can shift. Tongue position and the muscles of the lip and cheek are vital for embouchure. Dentures and dental implants, soft palate pain, cracks in teeth sometimes caused by vibration, and loss of feeling or sensitivity in the lips all can interfere with performance.

Keep Your Sound

For wind musicians, the smallest change in bite, tooth or jaw position, tooth shape, or tongue movement can significantly impact the ability to play. Embouchure can potentially change if dental work is needed. For example, a trumpet player with a chipped front tooth can have the tooth restored with bonding to make it look great from a cosmetic standpoint, but this restoration may be detrimental for performance. A horn player may get beautiful cosmetic veneers, which could add half a millimeter to the length of the teeth and ruin the player’s ability to hit high notes in the upper range.

Dental problems can make controlling pitch and tone difficult. Slight changes in the position of the tongue or shape of the teeth (which occur over time and with age) can alter airflow and change embouchure. It’s important to entrust dental care and treatment to dentists with expertise in conditions that affect musicians. With consistent care, they can provide relief and help prevent problems.

Be sure to discuss any dental discomfort you feel with the dentist. For example, teeth that are sensitive to cold and become more sensitive from inhaling air. Desensitizing toothpastes will help manage the problem, but your dentist may also discuss applying bonding resin to sensitive root surfaces. To strengthen enamel, fluoride treatments may be recommended.

Wear and Tear on Teeth

Over time, mouthpieces can cause irritation. To slow wear and tear, appliances can be made to cover the upper incisors and evenly distribute the pressure. For teenagers under age 15, playing for several hours a day may cause the upper teeth to protrude, which may require orthodontia. Keep your dentist or orthodontist informed of any changes you feel in playing technique.

Science and technology have come a long way in crafting advanced, precise mouthpieces. Likewise, adaptive mechanisms may include lip shields, treatments to improve occlusion (bite), or customized mouthpieces for trumpet players. In fact, some practitioners recommend taking the instrument to the dentist’s office at the time of consultation. This allows the dentist to better assess problems and, if necessary, to create a prosthetic appliance tailored to your specific need.

For single reed players, where much of the weight and pressure is on the lower jaw, the biting surface of your lower teeth may slowly wear away or chip. In double reed players, there is increased risk for pain and calluses. The pressure that performing puts on the mouth may increase the risk of infection within the ducts that release saliva.

The pressure on teeth for double-reed and brass players forces teeth inward. Brass players can also suffer from trauma to the upper lip. A long night of playing, when teeth are in direct contact with the mouthpiece, can lead to dental wear, tooth fracture, and lip trauma.

Experts recommend not only warming up before a gig but also warming down afterwards—playing long tones, scales, and lip slurs—to prevent chop problems. The warm-down helps musicians regain pliability when their embouchure is inflamed from the pressure of playing.

Make an Impression

Wind players display complex neuromuscular activity during performance. Consider taking your instrument to your dental visit to demonstrate the way you play. Your dentist should also make a model of your dental arches by taking a digital or physical impression of your mouth. This should be done every year; it’s an inexpensive way of safeguarding your sound.

In the event of an accident, for example, the model could be used to reconstruct a fractured tooth as accurately as possible. The slightest change in the position, shape, and location of the teeth could alter airflow or even the position of the tongue or mandible, which would alter how the embouchure feels and, consequently, the sound produced.

Providing dental treatment without taking into account a musician’s unique features and specific needs could mean that your mouth simply doesn’t close the way it used to, which could be detrimental to playing, and possibly career-ending.

Musicians who attempt to play instruments with removable dentures may experience problems with range, sound quality, or articulation through their horn. Traditional dentures are poorly anchored, which makes them unstable. This can make it difficult to recreate the proper embouchure. Dental bridges can be a better tooth replacement option, but if your embouchure is putting force on the bridge, it can be problematic. Some dentists may provide separate “musical performance” dentures specifically designed for playing, in addition to conventional dentures for eating.

Musicians should bring their instrument to the dentist’s office for consultation and treatment. It will help the dentist to pinpoint any problems. Among the devices that help musicians are lip shields, therapeutic aids to minimize discomfort during orthodontic treatment, treatment to improve occlusion (bite), chin rests for a violinists, or customized mouthpieces for trumpet players. To maintain their optimal standards, musicians should complete personalized questionnaires with their dentists to identify needs, expectations, and deficiencies.

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