Oh, the dreaded B word!
For a young teen, braces can be challenging, especially if they play a band instrument.
Having personally experienced them for three years in my youth, and then another two as an adult, my memories are not too fond.
So, is it hopeless if your child is getting braces? Absolutely not! Braces today are SOOOOO much different than 10, 15 even 20 years ago. The wires don’t seem to cut as much into the sides of the mouth.
Palette expanders seem to shorten the time of having braces as well. And now you can be real fashionable and get specially colored braces too!
Here’s the thing though: for a brass player, in particular trumpet, getting braces can wreak havoc on tone quality and endurance. And believe it or not, removal of braces will also affect tone quality and endurance for a while afterwards.
Here’s a few considerations for each instrument:
- After an initial adjustment period of a few days to a week, your child should be back to playing normally again.
- Extra condensation may occur, so your child may need to clean out the head-joint more frequently.
- Try to use more breath support instead of lip plate pressure.
Clarinet and Saxes:
- These instruments will have the least issues in terms of adjusting and tone quality.
- The one issue I have seen over the years is the extra condensation that forms and produces a “gurgly” sound. Students will have to draw out the condensation from the reed much more frequently.
- Saxophone players who tend to bite through their bottom lip will need to use much more breath support to support their tone quality, and adjust their lower lip position so that the bottom lip comes up evenly against the reed. (See my article on Improving Your Saxophone Tone for more ideas.)
Oboe and Bassoon:
- Students on these instruments will also not experience too many issues adjusting.
- Maintaining a good embouchure with plenty of breath support will help maintain tone quality.
- As with the Clarinets and Saxes, there will most likely be more condensation forming. Students will have to frequently shake out the reed to get rid of the “gurgly” sound.
Trumpet and French Horn:
- These are the instruments that will be most affected by regular braces. Having played trumpet with braces, and having taught hundreds of students with braces, I can tell you that there is definitely an adjustment period when getting braces on and removing them.
- If your child uses a lot of mouthpiece pressure to begin with, this transition can be difficult. You can also look at it as a way to learn how to play with better technique: plenty of air, much more breath support, more use of the corner muscles of the mouth and keeping the lips closed (or slightly rolled in) in an “Mmmm” position instead of using mouthpiece pressure.
- Orthodontists will give your child wax, but the braces cut through the wax when you apply pressure to a mouthpiece. Then the wax gets caught in the braces. A great solution to this is to use Plumber's Tape to coat the front teeth (top and bottom). It's thin enough not to protrude and takes some of the sharpness off the wires and brackets.
- There are other kits available online where you concoct a thin mouth guard that will last a month or so and will prevent the pain. (I had one really creative student who enjoyed making these.)
- Some students use Plastic or other synthetic-based mouthpieces. Some are made from medical-grade Lexan, a material that does not fluctuate with temperature changes and may feel a little more comfortable to play than the typical brass mouthpieces. As an added bonus, those students with nickel, silver, brass, or gold allergies can get reactions from standard plated mouthpieces to the point where the mouthpiece leaves a rash. This is not true for the plastic or synthetic mouthpieces. And they come in different colors. (Keep in mind, the sound from these mouthpieces may not match the rich sound of a brass mouthpiece.)
- There is also an adjustment period after the braces get removed. The teeth feel so smooth because the “anchor” of the braces no longer exists. The students may apply a lot more mouthpiece pressure to feel that “anchor” again.
- I feel that Invisalign for Teens is the answer if it is affordable and feasible for your child. (See below)
Trombone, Baritone and Tuba:
- The same issues arise as with the trumpet, but because of the larger mouthpiece, the mouthpiece pressure problem is not as much of an issue.
- It is really important that the student uses plenty of air and good breath support. Like the Trumpet and French Horn, maintaining an “Mmmm” position and using the corner muscles of the mouth even more-so will definitely help.
Is there a better solution?
For some people, Yes! Invisalign for Teens is new. I have used Invisalign personally as an adult (after my teeth went back to their original crooked position even with years of retainers) and it has truly helped my trumpet and saxophone performance.
DISCLAIMER: Invisalign is great for the right candidates. You need to ask your orthodontist whether this is your child's best option. If it is not an option, most children adapt to bracket orthodontics in time and with some patience. Using plenty of breath support, and really focusing on strengthening the embouchure muscles will make the student a better performer in the long run.
Here’s the lowdown on Invisalign:
- The Invisalign retainers are clear plastic pieces that fit snugly on your teeth. Each set is usually worn for two weeks to a month at a time, and then a new set is worn. After placing in a new set, it will feel uncomfortable for a few hours, but that goes away with consistent usage.
- They fit like a glove and feel smooth over the teeth. At times, you almost can’t tell they are there.
- It is crucial that your child brushes and flosses consistently. This will mean bringing a toothbrush, toothpaste and floss to school and being sure to use them after lunch or snacks. This may seem nerdy, but putting the retainers on after eating or drinking sugary drinks will cause cavities.
- It is also crucial that your child brings the container to place the Invisalign retainers in while eating. You don’t want to lose them!
- Invisalign can be more expensive than regular braces, and may not be covered (or covered as much) by insurance.
- I really feel this is the best solution for Brass players and saxophonists who tend to bite through their bottom lip too much. (Of course, correcting that issue is of utmost importance, but Invisalign can alleviate much of the discomfort.)
Click here for information on Invisalign for Teens, along with some helpful videos.
If your child has, or is getting braces, there are many better options than in the past.
If you can afford Invisalign for Teens, that, I feel, is the best option. If not, this can be seen as an opportunity to work on playing technique and breath support.
Whatever you do, don’t get braces (or remove them) before a major concert or performance! Your child will be nervous enough; the extra adjusting and uncertainty can cause many performance problems and loss of self-esteem. You can tell your orthodontist to wait; a few weeks will not matter in the scheme of things.
- Do you have any experiences with braces or Invisalign that you would like to share? Please share them in the Comments section below.
- Please SHARE this article with friends, band teachers and private instructors, and especially dentists and orthodontists. This can help them make more informed choices for students.
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