Braces: What Every Band Parent Should Know

Today's guest post is by Donna Schwartz, a veteran music educator. Today she answers a common question: "My Child Has (or is getting) Braces; Can She Still Play Her Band Instrument?"

Oh, the dreaded B word! For a young teen, nothing could be worse than braces, 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!

Braces smile purple

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:

Woodwinds

Flute

  1. After an initial adjustment period of a few days to a week, your child should be back to playing normally again.
  2. Extra condensation may occur, so your child may need to clean out the head-joint more frequently.
  3. Try to use more breath support instead of lip plate pressure.

Clarinet and Saxes

  1. These instruments will have the least issues in terms of adjusting and tone quality.
  2. 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.
  3. Saxophone players who tend to bite through their bottom lip will need to use much more breath support to support their tone quality. (See the section below on Invisalign.)

 

Oboe and Bassoon

  1. Students on these instruments will also not experience too many issues adjusting.
  2. Maintaining a good embouchure with plenty of breath support will help maintain tone quality.
  3. 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.

 

Brass

Trumpet and French Horn

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. There are other kits available on www.wwandbw.com and other sites 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.)
  5. 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.
  6. I feel that Invisalign for Teens is the answer if it is affordable and feasible for your child. (See below)

 

Trombone, Baritone and Tuba

  1. 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.
  2. 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?

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.

Here's the lowdown:

  1. 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.
  2. They fit like a glove and feel smooth over the teeth. At times, you almost can't tell they are there.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!
  5. Invisalign can be more expensive than regular braces, and may not be covered (or covered as much) by insurance.

Here's the link to 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.

I hope this article has helped you. Do you have any experiences with braces or Invisalign that you would like to share? Are there other aids you have found that you can share with us? I do welcome your comments below.

Donna Schwartz.jpg

Donna Schwartz has been teaching Band and Jazz Band in public elementary and middle schools in New York for over 13 years, and has been teaching brass and saxophone students privately for over 26 years. She has a website at http://donnaschwartzmusic.com, where she offers weekly blogs on teaching music, and videos for solutions to common performance problems.

13 thoughts on “Braces: What Every Band Parent Should Know

  1. Great tips! I am a dentist in Raleigh providing braces as well as Invisalign and I hadn’t thought about the impact braces have on playing an instrument. I will have to ask one of my younger patients if they play any instruments and how they have fared with the adjustment!

    1. Thanks for reading my article and I am glad it gave you a different perspective. When I was growing up, my orthodontist told my parents I had to quit trumpet because it would push my teeth in. Thankfully, my band teacher convinced my parents this was not true and I was able to continue playing.
      Please share this article with your colleagues too as most dentists and orthodontists might not be aware of the effects of braces.

  2. Donna, well written article with much insight. I 37 years of private trumpet teaching I have found the Morgan Bumper to be the best and most re-usable appliance for trumpet students that receive braces.

  3. My son plays the trumpet and has to get an expander placed on the roof of his mouth. Will he still be able to play? He is really concerned about this. He’s only been playing a year but loves it

  4. I am 14 years old and I really want to play alto sax but my parents won’t let me because I was unmotivated whilst playing guitar last year. How do I convince them to let me play? Also, I have braces, is there any more detail you can go into with playing alto sax with braces and the affects?

  5. My son plays alto sax and has been enjoying a great tone after 3 years of playing. He didn’t notice a difference in his playing after getting top braces, but he got his bottom braces on this week and is now saying his tone is drastically suffering, there is a bit of squeaking and airy. He can’t control his vibrato. The question is: will he adjust to the braces over time and be able to achieve his previous tone while wearing braces, and if so, how long will that take?

  6. Thank you for this article. I was really worried that getting braces would not allow me to play my clarinet and now that I read your article, I have conquered my fears and convinced myself to get braces. 🙂

  7. Thank you for this wonderful and informative article. As a band director myself I have students who have had to adjust to braces. My son who is a phenomenal saxophonist at 13 just got braces yesterday and is worried about playing. He is also learning to double on flute and clarinet! This article is spot on and has put his mind at ease! THANK YOU 🙂

  8. Thanks guys for the valuable information. It brings comfort to know that there are several alternatives available. Excellent work Donna.
    Regards

  9. Hey, Donna,

    I’m 15 and have been playing the sax for over 4 and a half years. I’m planning on getting braces soon, and I read your article. I actually would like to present you with a question: Do you think, if I were to get braces newly put on, that I could play on the same day without being very uncomfortable?

    Thanks so much for creating this article,

    Nicole S.

  10. I play euphonium and have been playing it since 4th grade and now I’m a freshman in high school. I got into my county’s GT band every single year and was first chair in elementary and middle school thanks to having a superior band director, (Mrs.Lori Schwartz Reichl) but I got braces a few months ago. I still got into GT band but I was 3rd chair which isn’t up to my standards. I understand it’s because of braces and after reading this, I now realize how much braces affects my playing as a low brass player.

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