Teeth grinding. TMJ. Muscle cramps. Dry mouth. Cold sores and calluses. These are all potential problems for wind and brass musicians, who can often suffer from pathological conditions that are aggravated by their occupation. Repetitive movements, excessive practice, and stress can cause a number of dental and orofacial problems.
It is not uncommon for musicians to experience TMJ (temporomandibular joint pain), 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 level.
Know Your Dentist
Eventually, controlling pitch and tone can become problematic. The slightest change in the position of the tongue or shape of the teeth (which occurs over time and with age) can alter airflow and change embouchure. Clearly, regular dental visits are highly recommended, but it’s important to entrust dental care and treatment to dentists with expertise in conditions that specifically affect musicians. With consistent care, they can provide relief and help prevent further problems. Bring your mouthpiece for a better overall assessment.
Teeth that are sensitive to cold 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 also cause irritation. To slow down wear and tear, appliances can be made to help cover the upper incisors and evenly distribute the pressure. For teenagers under the age of 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 players should consider having a model made of their dental arches every year. It’s an inexpensive way of safeguarding their sound. A specialist would know that wind instrumentalists display complex neuromuscular activity during performances. For instance, an exam would be complemented with the aid of technology to better understand orofacial structure and the embouchure mechanism. Any prosthetic rehabilitation would provide 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 and/or chip. In double reed players, there is increased risk for pain and calluses. The increased pressure in 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 and tooth fracture, and lip trauma. Experts recommend not only warming up before a gig but also “to warm down” afterwards—playing long tones, scales, and lip slurs—to prevent chop problems. Playing puts pressure on the embouchure, which may become inflamed. The warm-down helps a musician regain that pliability. Above all, if there is an injury, practice the three Rs: Rest, Recuperation, and Rehabilitation.