Embouchures and orthodontic treatment

Do you have an embouchure? If you don’t play a musical instrument, specifically a wind instrument, then you don’t need an embouchure. If, on the other hand, you play a clarinet, saxophone or any other sort of wind instrument, your embouchure is a precious thing to be cared for and cultivated.

Broadly, the embouchure is the ideal positioning of the mouth around the mouthpiece of your musical instrument. Take a second to try and purse your lips as if you were about to blow into a trumpet mouthpiece and try to exert some air. As you do so, you will notice a slight pressure on your jaw and teeth, demonstrating how all of the facial components work together to create this movement.

As an orthodontist who loves music, I recognise that the relationship between the positioning of teeth and the embouchure is critical. I take great care of patients who play wind instruments while they are having their orthodontic treatment. Over the years, I have found myself treating a number of musicians. I am also proud to say that Brum is the home to the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra City.

Did you know that jazz musician and owner of the famous Soho Jazz Club with the same name, Ronnie Scott suffered from dental problems later in life that reportedly affected his playing? Playing a wind instrument such as a Tenor Saxophone like Mr Scott, requires complex muscle movements from the face, lips, tongue and teeth. According to The British Orthodontic Society, proficient wind musicians can sometimes notice a change in how they practice and perform whilst undergoing orthodontic treatment and this is subject that I hope to address a little in this blog.

According to the Pop’s Trumpet College in the USA, there are various techniques for achieving the desired sound and as mentioned in this article on the different ways in which to play, there are some techniques such as the ‘Stevens’ which required 100% mouth formation to achieve. This includes teeth being around 1/4 – 1/2 of an inch apart and your jaw positioned in a forward way to create a flat playing surface. Accuracy is everything.

Ironically, accuracy is also everything when it comes to moving teeth during orthodontic treatment. This accuracy does not just begin and end with the physical treatment. As a rule, I like to try and make sure that I understand a little about my patient’s work or lifestyle or anything else that may affect their braces so that we can devise the best course of treatment together. In the case of a wind instrument player, it really does vary from person to person.

Some patients find that their braces have little to no effect on their embouchure, whilst others need coping strategies. My team and I are always happy to spend extra time providing support to musicians. Here are some of the things that we say:

With a little practice and time, most musical wind instrument players find that they adjust to wearing a fixed brace while playing their instrument within a few months.

Timing of treatment could be considered in relation to the taking of music examinations.

Some players are more adversely affected than others and this can depend upon the person themselves, the type of instrument being played and also the type of bite problem.

Remember that removable aligners could also be an option. With something like Invisalign, clear aligners which are removed for eating and drinking, your treatment may not affect your playing at all. This is something that can be discussed during an initial consultation.

At first, you may find that a fixed brace rubs your tongue making it sore. Orthodontic wax is provided here or can be bought in bulk online which can help soothe any soreness.

Communication is everything! I am happy to liaise with a band leader or conductor before treatment to try and help make sure that your treatment does not affect any upcoming performances.

Forward planning is something that can be discussed. Perhaps you’d like to begin treatment after a big performance?

There is some excellent information here on the BOS’s Advice for musicians page. Whatever your hobby, if you think that orthodontic treatment will have some effect, we can help to tailor treatment as much as possible around this.

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