Solutions to Playing with Braces for Brass Players

Ben Woodward

Many young brass musicians face the challenge of getting new braces. Unfortunately, the ideal time for a student to receive orthodontic treatment coincides with the time that young musicians are developing embouchure as well as a general connection to music. This is the age when many young students are deciding if they want to continue pursuing music, so it is particularly crucial to make the transition into playing with braces as smooth as possible. In order to better understand how to help your student adapt with their braces, I discussed this topic with two individuals with a great deal of experience with this problem.  Mr. Jim Childers is the band director at Marion Jr High School where he has seen many young students deal with braces related issues-- he is also a trombonist. I also reached out to Dr. Kyle Childers who is an orthodontist with multiple offices in Southern Illinois.



The issues faced by your student may vary but Dr. Childers says the most common complaint he receives is that students have trouble re-adjusting their embouchure.  Mr. Childers also notes this as a major complaint.  He says, “There is discomfort.”  He explains that the biggest issue is due to a changing embouchure. “The mouthpiece does not have the same stable platform (on the lip but smooth flat teeth behind) that it once did.  Air can leak up between the upper lip and teeth or gums because of the braces.” Though both have heard complaints of discomfort, this is nothing to worry about. You should only need 2 or 3 days before returning to your instrument. Pain may reoccur when the braces are tightened. Mr. Childers says that a day off may be necessary, but sometimes ibuprofen can do the trick.


Lasting Effects

Mr. Childers says that the embouchure will naturally make adjustments when a student has braces installed.  Even when the student has all of the other components together, braces can cause some issues. He also encourages teachers to look out for other problems when a student is experiencing more difficulty, “Air flow, throat tightness, etc. should not change.  Teachers should speak positives not negatives.  For example, a teacher should say ‘push the air all the way through’, or ‘play with a warm tone’, instead of ‘don't tighten your throat.’” It is important to stress a good sound so a student can more easily transition out of braces. A student may occasionally need a day to recover from pain, but a good sound is still attainable.


Recovery and Alternatives

One alternative to braces may be Invisalign. Both Mr. Childers and Dr. Childers recommend this alternative to braces. Dr. Childers said, “I recommend Invisalign to all my musicians.  I can treat almost any case with Invisalign.” Mr. Childers does recommend that the parent and student request that the epoxy anchors be placed on the teeth with enough space for the mouthpiece if they choose the Invisalign route.  Dr. Childers reminds his patients that excellent dental hygiene is the most important aspect to a speedy recovery.  It is also important to note that Dr. Childers says that discomfort is expected but it poses no danger to your teeth or mouth.