Dentistry and Musicians
Musicians, like athletes, have special dental needs. Certain musicians – singers, violinists and wind instrumentalists, have more unique needs compared to the others.
Singers use their entire oro-pharnyx to produce their unique sounds when singing. So the position of the teeth is critical, as is the shape of their supporting gums. Any changes in tooth shape, size or position will alter the sound. So will the loss of gum tissue due to peridontitis.
This is of little concern for the shower virtuoso, but for some one earning their living by song, this can be a make or break situation.
The two most affected group of musicians after vocalists are violinists and wind instrumentalists.
Violinists use their jaws and shoulders to hold their instruments. Couple this with the stress and tension of being a world class performer and over time this may lead to musculoskeletal problems and bruxism (grinding or clenching).
Bruxism has very negative impacts on the jaw joints, the teeth and gums. This method of holding the violin over time leads to what is known as a repetitive strain injury. A cardinal feature is pain. The specific condition is called craniomandibular dysfunction syndrome meaning the skull and the lower jaw.
Treatment involves mouthguards (oral appliances), physiotherapy and stress management. It is obvious that this may take a heavy toll on the musician.
Wind instrumentalists may have postural issues (musculoskeletal) akin to the violinists, as well as issues pertaining to their embouchures. The embouchure is the name given to the lips, teeth, tongue and jaw position, and their interaction during sound production for their instruments.
Woodwind players (clarinets, oboes, bassoons, saxophones, etc.) all hold their reed containing mouthpiece such that the teeth contact and maintain its position, while the reed vibrates against the lip. Tongue position against the anterior teeth articulates the note production by acting as a valve for air movement into the instrument. This involves correctly positioning the lower jaw.
Brass players (bugles, trumpets, trombones, French horns, euphoniums, tubas, etc.) produce their sound by having the mouthpiece lay against their upper and lower lips while being supported by the teeth. Similarly, the tongue is the piston regulating air movement into the instrument. Jaw position and tooth position is similarly important.
The wind players can have joint issues; lip and facial muscle strains, unexpected tooth movement over time, and postural problems. Again these represent game changing impacts on lives and livelihoods for amateur and professional alike.
Other diseases like trigeminal neuralgia can be impacted by embouchure activity and reciprocally can end musical careers.
Ultimately, whether an amateur or a professional musician, your oral health is paramount. So what can you do if you are a musician?
Communicate with your dentist! You should be doing this in general any way. Specifically, they should know that you are a musician and the way you play your instrument, pointing out your individual unique circumstances.
When being actively treated, especially if the area of the mouth directly impacts instrumental sound production, bring your instrument to the dentist’s office and show him or her how you play your instrument.
Depending on the treatment, models may be made. Ask for and keep a set of extra models of your mouth and teeth, so that in the event of a dental emergency you can show the dentist how your mouth and teeth should look. It is prudent to do this anyway even if there is no planned treatment.
Regular maintenance appointments are important to monitor your mouth over time. Unexpected or desired changes may be caught and corrected in time.
If you are a parent who wishes to have a child learn to play an instrument, then a dental consultation is helpful. Certain instruments are not advisable until adult teeth are present and fully erupted into their final positions. Healthy, disease free (no cavities, no gum disease) teeth are a must for wind instruments. If orthodontic care is planned, then brass and woodwind instruments may hinder the proposed treatment.
Remember oral wellness, whole health applies to making a joyous noise!