For most children, the optimal time to begin braces is between age nine and age 14. This age range coincides with the time during which many kids also begin to play an instrument. Having braces and playing instruments are exciting milestones in your child’s growth and development. But this overlap warrants an important question: can you play a musical instrument with braces?
Playing an instrument with braces is entirely possible, but it does require a period of adjustment. The degree of adjustment your child experiences will depend on what instrument they play. In general, brass instruments require more changes because players press their lips directly into the mouthpiece. Woodwind instruments use more indirect contact with the mouthpiece, which can make them easier to adjust to.
No matter what instrument your child plays, there are ways to adapt and maintain musical involvement with braces. Here are some specific challenges, details and tips for navigating any instrument when your child has braces.
Playing Trumpet With Braces
Braces affect trumpet players more than any other instrument. This is due to the size of a trumpet’s mouthpiece and the way it is used. Players have to press their lips into a small mouthpiece and buzz their lips to create noise, which becomes challenging with added metal brackets.
Here’s what you can expect if your child plays the trumpet and has braces:
- Challenges: At first, the inside of your child’s lips and cheeks may become sore from being pressed into their trumpet’s mouthpiece. This is especially true for trumpet players who use a lot of mouthpiece pressure to play.
- Adaptations: Encourage your child to play with more breath support instead of mouth pressure. If they use more air force to create sound instead of pressing their lips firmly into the mouthpiece, they can ease discomfort. Your child may also want to use muscles in the corner of their mouth more and keep their lips rolled inward slightly.
- Tips: Adjusting to braces as a trumpet player will take time, practice and patience. Remind your child to take it slow and consider purchasing a thin mouth guard to cover their braces for the first few weeks.
Playing Trombone With Braces
Much like a trumpet, a trombone produces sound when a player buzzes their lips into a mouthpiece. A key difference the trombone offers is that its mouthpiece tends to be larger than a trumpet’s. This puts less pressure on your child’s braces as they play.
Here’s what you can expect if your child plays the trombone and has braces:
- Challenges: Though mouth pressure is less of an issue for trombone players, your child may experience discomfort when first playing. It may also be difficult to produce high notes on the trombone because this requires more pressure.
- Adaptations: Encourage your child to utilize increased breath support while adapting. It may help to mimic the mouth position your lips make when saying “Mmm” to ease lip discomfort.
- Tips: Your child can use orthodontic wax to cover their metal brackets and prevent irritation inside their mouth when playing. In addition, it may be best to encourage them to start practicing in 10 to 15-minute intervals so they can acclimate themselves to the new mouth positioning.
Playing Saxophone With Braces
The challenges of playing woodwind instruments with braces differ from those of playing brass instruments with braces. Woodwind players do not have to press their mouths into a mouthpiece. Instead, they use various forms of indirect contact to direct airflow into their instruments. Woodwind players have to make slightly different adjustments when they first get braces.
Here’s what you can expect if your child plays the saxophone and has braces:
- Challenges: A saxophone player may experience increased saliva in their mouth when they first get braces, which can cause condensation build-up in their instrument. If not cleaned, this can cause a gurgling sound in the saxophone. In addition, saxophone players who bite their bottom lip when playing may experience changes in tone quality.
- Adaptations: To prevent build-up, your child will need to draw out condensation from their reed more often. This requires your child to remove the instrument barrel and mouthpiece and swab them thoroughly. For those who bite their bottom lip, it is helpful to increase breath support to maintain good tone quality.
- Tips: To combat increased condensation, be sure your child cleans out their instrument often and thoroughly. This will keep the instrument dry and in its best shape.
Playing Clarinet With Braces
Clarinetists will experience some of the same issues as saxophone players when they first have braces. This is because clarinet mouthpieces require players to use their lower lip to cover their bottom teeth to make a sound.
Here’s what you can expect if your child plays the clarinet and has braces:
- Challenges: Though your child won’t need to adapt their mouth position for the braces, it will feel different to play. In addition, your child may experience excess condensation when playing their clarinet. If not removed, this condensation could cause a gurgling sound inside the instrument.
- Adaptations: Encourage your child to draw the condensation out of their reed and mouthpiece more often. If they are struggling to produce the same sound quality they had before braces, it may be helpful to switch to a softer reed.
- Tips: Your child should start with low tones first to get used to what it feels like to play with braces. Help your child pace themselves when practicing to avoid an overly sore mouth.
Playing Flute With Braces
Flute players with braces have to make slightly different adjustments compared to other woodwind players. A flute’s mouthpiece requires players to press their lower lip into a metal piece and blow air over an open hole. This can require some time to adapt, especially for the lower lip placement.
Here’s what you can expect if your child plays the flute and has braces:
- Challenges: Flute players who use extra pressure on their lower lip may need to adjust their playing style to avoid lower lip discomfort. Braces may also contribute to greater condensation build-up inside the flute.
- Adaptations: Players who rely on lower lip pressure may need to use increased breath support to ease lip strain. This can take time to master, so encourage your child to be patient as they adapt.
- Tips: Your child should clean out their flute’s head joint more frequently to combat excess condensation. It is helpful to encourage this cleaning as a habit before and after they play their flute.
Alternatives to Braces
Metal braces aren’t the only option available to straighten your child’s smile. Clear aligners, known as Invisalign, use custom plastic trays to correct teeth over time. These aligners are shaped like very thin mouth guards and provide less interference to an instrument.
Invisalign can aid instrument playing in several ways, including:
- Less interference with instrument mouthpieces.
- Less overall mouth discomfort.
- Shorter instrument adapting period.
- Flexibility to leave trays in or take them out when playing — as long as they are worn for 20 to 22 hours a day.
Clear aligners could make adjusting to an instrument much easier, but they may not be right for everyone. Talk to your orthodontist to see if Invisalign might be a good option for your child.
Quality Orthodontics That Strike a Chord
At Sprout Pediatric Dentistry & Orthodontics, we care about creating quality smiles — but we also care about kids. We understand your kids are building their confidence and self-esteem each day, and we want our orthodontic solutions to contribute to this growth. That’s why our orthodontists will work with you to choose the right kind of braces and help you navigate lifestyle adjustments.
To learn what kind of orthodontic services your child may need, we offer free initial consultations. We also offer payment plans and discounts to make braces affordable for your budget. For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact us today.
Dr. Paul is a Portland native and attended OHSU for dental school. He finished his Orthodontic Residency training program in Philadelphia, PA before returning back to Portland. Dr. Paul is a kid at heart & loves working with kids and teens in his orthodontic practice.