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October 1, 2022IM -
Teeth grinding, temporomandibular joint pain (TMJ), muscle cramps, dry mouth, cold sores, and calluses are all potential problems for wind musicians, which may be aggravated by performance. Repetitive movement, excessive practice, and stress can cause dental and orofacial problems.
It is not uncommon for musicians to experience 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 muscles of the lip and cheek are vital for embouchure. Dentures and dental implants, soft palate pain, cracks in teeth caused by vibration, and loss of feeling or sensitivity in the lips all can interfere with performance.
Eventually, 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. Regular dental visits are highly recommended, and 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 may be feeling. 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.
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.
Wind instrumentalists display complex neuromuscular activity during performance and should consider having a model made of their dental arches every year. It’s an inexpensive way of safeguarding their sound. Then, any prosthetic rehabilitation should make minimal changes to the musician’s performance.
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.
Above all, if there is an injury, practice the three Rs: rest, recuperation, and rehabilitation. And, visit your dentist regularly.