As teachers, most of us have probably had students who showed up one day with braces. Sometimes, you might have had previous knowledge that the braces were coming and other times, you had no warning at all. You might be reading this right now and dreading the fact that you’re getting braces sooner rather than later. What to do? Here are a few things to know and some strategies that you can use to help your students, or yourself! The following information is presented from the perspective of a teacher talking with a student.
The Good News
You will be a better flute player when you’re done with the braces for several reasons.Your teeth will be straight and any overbite you might have will be corrected.You will struggle less with quality tone production and making slight embouchure adjustments will be easier. Secondly, you will have better control over the muscles in your face because you will be used to doing all sorts of crazy things to accommodate the orthodontia in your mouth. This flexibility is a great thing to have!
The Bad News
With braces, the sound you make on the flute is not going to be good at first. And that’s ok. This can absolutely be incredibly frustrating. Every flutist who has had braces has to go through this process, because braces make life difficult for flutists at first. Very often, the bottom brackets make it impossible to place the head joint in the ideal spot (this is more of a problem with piccolo playing). You must choose to set the head joint in a different spot, either higher or lower, and deal with the consequences. In general, the top lip will need to come more forward, over and down around the braces. The first attempt at flute playing after the braces are installed can be devastating because the tone quality is so drastically affected; however, with time and patience, you can learn to make adjustments to the embouchure. I had my first student with Invisalign braces last winter and those are a challenge for a different reason. One of my daughters currently has them and the other one will be getting them eventually. Invisalign is the clear tray, similar to a retainer, that hooks onto attachments that are attached directly to the teeth. Everybody’s attachments are in different places because they are specifically assigned to move each tooth in a certain direction. For my student with Invisalign, it was uncomfortable for the flute to be contacting right where the tray meets the gum and we ended up moving the instrument higher. Everybody’s braces situation and face is unique and you’ll need to experiment.
What To Actually Do!
My suggestion is that you go back to playing on just your head joint, looking for the place that you can get the clearest tone. If you play with a smiling embouchure, now is a great time to change! You absolutely can’t play like that with braces on because the pressure is too great.You will have to learn how to use your lips differently – moving out and around the stuff on the front of the teeth. The change in the angle of the air is very different with braces on. The muscles that actually control your lips are not in the fleshy part of the lips at all! Click here (https://www.anatomynext.com/orbicularis-oris/)
to see an image of the muscle that encircles your lips – the obicularis oris.
The purpose of the lips is to aim and shape the air and the adjustments involve movement from the center of the lips, not the corners. The “air tunnel” formed by the lips happens with the wet, inside surface of the lips, rather than the “lipstick lips.” The human body is a marvelous thing—it can come up with multiple strategies to get a task done. This means that you can learn to use your lips in a different way. Tone quality is not something that you should really focus on during this time because the embouchure set up isn’t ideal. You will do the best that can do with the limitations.
What can you work on? Fortunately, you can improve your technique a lot during the time your braces are on because your braces do not attach to your fingers! Now is the time to work on those scales studies, intervals, chords, and etudes. It’s ok if the tone quality isn’t the greatest. You can also work on breathing more efficiently. After all, the flute is a wind instrument and needs wind to work!
Braces hurt—period. Anybody who says they don’t is not being truthful. Encouraging teeth to move into a different position is a big deal for your body.The good news is the pain fades over time, as you get used to the braces.Then it returns when the braces are tightened or when you change to a new tray with Invisalign.This is cost of doing business—there’s no way around it.
Canker sores (mouth ulcers), either on the inside surface of the lips, cheeks or on the actual gum tissue itself, can be very painful. This is especially uncomfortable if the sore is right where the instrument rests; for example, the inside of the bottom lip for flutists. If you have this type of sore inside your mouth, then just finger along during band rehearsal and don’t play for several days to allow the sore to heal.
If your face and teeth hurt when you get metal braces adjusted or when you change trays with Invisalign, then take a day off from practicing. Let the teeth settle and then start again the next day.
Usually other types of dental appliances such as expanders and bite plates are manageable for flutists since the flute doesn’t actually sit inside the mouth. In some cases, you may need to temporarily change where the tip of the tongue is striking inside the mouth when articulating.
Finally – the day comes to get the braces off! Hurray! You made it!
Congratulations. Guess what? Now you have to reset your embouchure again! This means moving the head joint placement back to where it was before braces. In my experience, this is always a faster adjustment than the original adjustment period to the braces due to the increased lip and embouchure flexibility that was developed.
Please wear the retainer that your orthodontist wants you wear at night to keep your teeth from moving. You spent lots of time and money getting your teeth sorted out and you do not want to have to go through this experience again.
There is light at the end of the braces tunnel! Patience and persistence are the keys to success, and you will eventually sound awesome again!