Can My Child Play the Trumpet with Braces?
Bonnie Ward Simon, B.A., M.A. M.Ed. M. Phil.
YES! Your child can play the trumpet with braces, but it's going to take careful coordination between you, your child and your orthodontist.
Playing wind or brass instruments while wearing braces is no fun. The professional trumpet player or flutist can play with virtually no pressure on their mouths, but any young brass player will tell you, "To get those high notes, just shove that mouthpiece in hard against your teeth and blow!"
Wind players spend years learning to play without pressure on their embouchures, for if they did not, they could never endure six hours of rehearsal and then a concert that night. Few children approaching the age of braces rarely have perfected this art.
What are my Choices?
If you would like your child to continue playing, you must realize that two or three years are going to be spent working with the orthodontist, because your child is not going to be the average patient. Your child is bringing a new level of problem to the orthodontist's office, which the doctor may or may not have time for or interest in. Your dentist should recommend several orthodontists whom you should interview. Questions you should ask an orthodontist are:
"Do you have any current patients who play the trumpet (oboe, flute or whatever instrument your child plays)? I would like to talk with them about their experiences with braces."
"Have you ever done anything special to accommodate a wind player in terms of treatment?"
"Should my child bring his/her mouthpiece to fittings?"
"If my child really has problems adjusting, what are the options?"
If the orthodontist responds with, "If your child is only playing an hour a day, there will be no problem." or "I think you are overly concerned," he/she has never lived with a child who needs to practice. The wrong type of braces for your instrumentalist will result in his/her quitting the instrument, or your switching orthodontists mid-procedure.
It is very important to evaluate the orthodontist's office.
Does it take months to get an appointment? Remember, if you are having trouble scheduling at the beginning when he/she wants your business, consider how difficult it might be to get an appointment when you have a problem.
Are you spending most of your time with technicians rather than with the orthodontist?
How difficult is it to speak with him/her personally on the telephone?
Is the staff friendly and easy to deal with?
Are they more interested in the contract and payment schedule than in your child's teeth? The finest orthodontist in the world, if surrounded by a difficult staff out to "protect" him/her from what the staff deems "nuisance" calls, may be unreachable even in times of crisis. He/she may simply never know that you have called.
There are different kinds of braces and you should check to be sure that your orthodontist works with more than one kind.
Years ago, everyone who wore braces looked as though they had just come off the battlefield with King Arthur, well-armored. Orthodontists have tried, and succeeded, in making them smaller and less conspicuous.
Different types of braces
As a parent, I thought that braces were braces, perhaps in gold or with pink wires, but that they were essentially the same. I have come to know that there are many kinds, all seemingly without names, which each orthodontist likes, works with, transforms, and believes in. Some orthodontists even "invent" new kinds of braces. When you have your initial office visit, there will inevitably be a child there who is outfitted with braces. In the best of all possible circumstances, one might borrow a surgical glove and feel one of the front braces. Some braces are sharper than others; some are higher than others. Some braces have tiny plastic "doughnuts", which encircle the metal protrusion on each tooth.
While the choice for a 13 year old who does not play an instrument might be the smallest brace possible, the instrumentalist will want to have the lowest, smoothest, brace.
A brace that utilizes the plastic doughnut surround to hold the wire in place would also offer your child's mouth some extra comfort, because it shields the sharper edge of the metal bracket. A bracket with a clip may be a little smaller, but its edges would definitely be sharper.
One orthodontist offered to put several braces on the front teeth of a child to see if he could endure them before moving ahead with fitting the entire mouth. He also had several options in terms of treatment and insisted that the child bring his trumpet mouthpiece to the fitting. At the opposite end of the spectrum, another orthodontist was not available for a telephone consultation, even when the parents said they felt they had no alternative but to have their child's braces removed. After three months of braces, his lips were still bleeding daily, and he was due to go to a performing arts camp and play four hours a day! The technician suggested more wax be applied to the braces; the orthodontist said he never knew the parents had called.
As consumers, we feel increasingly comfortable asking questions of the medical profession.
As one orthodontist said, "Remember, this is an elective procedure." This realization should give you confidence about shopping for the right orthodontist and asking plenty of questions. Braces will always be a nuisance, and there will be a period of adjustment, but the right orthodontist can minimize the pain and keep your child playing.
Bonnie Ward Simon, BA, MA, M.Ed, M.Phil.,
President of Maestro Classics