Some musical instruments are not precisely the most ergonomic, and practicing an instrument for extended periods can produce repetitive strain injury (RPI), among other damages. Regarding the saxophone, you may be wondering if your teeth are safe from constantly pressing on the mouthpiece.
Can playing the saxophone damage your teeth? Playing the saxophone can damage your teeth, mainly because you place a lot of pressure on the lower lip and upper teeth to be capable of bearing the weight of the saxophone. Common dental health problems deriving from saxophone playing include misaligned and moving teeth.
In this article, we'll elaborate on the list of possible dental problems that derive from playing the saxophone and how we can elude them.
What Makes The Saxophone So Dangerous For Our Teeth?
As said before, in terms of dental health, the most hazardous component in a saxophone is the mouthpiece. Nevertheless, we should consider the following:
Playing the saxophone in itself is not dangerous, provided that we're able to manage our playing schedule correctly and don't force ourselves to practice excessively.
However, when it comes to our teeth, we could experience discomfort playing higher notes.
The first factor to keep in mind is our bite. The standard saxophone embouchure would have the upper teeth biting directly on the top of the mouthpiece, while the lower lip would cover the lower teeth. This, of course, creates pressure on the upper teeth, which would increase as the pitch gets higher.
This pressure increases significantly when trying to play altissimo notes, and you'll be forced to change your mouth positioning relative to the mouthpiece on the spot. Altissimos are rare during gigs, but intermediate and advanced players may practice them repeatedly, which can be extremely taxing on their teeth.
The second factor is vibration. Our teeth constantly absorb the vibrating motion produced from our execution, creating further problems.
Keep in mind that the teeth are not mere slabs of bone. Beyond the enamel layer, there's the dentin and the pulp tissue. The dentin is packed with tubules filled with water that can transmit these repeated motions to the pulp and the nerve, producing sensitivity.
People suffering from high teeth sensitivity and gum disease are naturally in a much worse position than those with good oral hygiene. For one, they would be unable to play the saxophone without feeling pain or discomfort. On the other hand, some people have stated that the vibration on the mouthpiece has loosened their fillings and further debilitated their already weakened teeth.
What Can We Do To Prevent Damaging Our Teeth When Playing Saxophone?
Fortunately, you don't need to refrain necessarily from playing your saxophone. You can take various protective measures to prevent your saxophone's mouthpiece from causing damage to your teeth. Let's go over them succinctly:
1. Use Correct Embouchure
We've already discussed the standard embouchure used for saxophone, but a correct embouchure is not just aimed at getting better sounds from the saxophone. It also reduces unnecessary strain on your mouth, teeth, and jawbone.
Amateur sax players often introduce too much mouthpiece inside their mouth, producing excessive jaw pressure and subsequent pain in their teeth and lips. They should strive to find a middle ground without muffling their horn's sound.
2. If Necessary, Employ Double-lip Embouchure
This embouchure type is less common on single reeds, but it might be worth trying. Traditionally, double-lip embouchure has been the standard for double-reed instruments like the oboe. Essentially, you'll be using your upper lip to wrap your upper teeth like how you cover your lower teeth with your lower lip.
This should only be tried if you already have issues playing your saxophone comfortably with your upper teeth biting the mouthpiece. However, be mindful that the lips may also suffer soreness due to intensive pressure.
3. Use A Mouthpiece Patch
Mouthpiece patches are small cushions attached to the mouthpiece's upper side (the side that normally meets our upper teeth). These patches were specifically designed to prevent the teeth from sliding and producing wear on the mouthpiece.
Mouthpiece patches work to protect the player's teeth in two ways. On the one hand, they offer a soft surface for the teeth to keep them from experiencing excessive friction. On the other hand, the patch absorbs a great percentage of the vibration, meaning that it's not transmitted through the teeth's enamel towards the nerve and the root.
Some players will notice that they lose a bit of control over their embouchure when using the patch. This is partly because they tend to associate the vibration with the sound they perceive from their instrument as they play. It could take a while to get used to playing with a mouthpiece patch installed, but, eventually, our mouth becomes habituated to the new setup.
Related article: Are Metal, Plastic Or Rubber Mouthpieces Better? (Woodwinds)
4. Shorten Your Practice Sessions
Learning to play and master an instrument is likened to a marathon rather than a sprint. Consistently practicing an instrument enables the muscles involved to memorize the typical patterns and motions so that they can be conditioned for the next session.
Moreover, a practice session should not be overly extended, but you may want to break it down into two or more sessions per day, with short breaks in between. Whenever we start to feel strain around our mouth muscles and our jaw, it's a good indication that we should stop practicing and rest. Otherwise, we would profit nothing from the practice, and we could effectively inflict teeth or lip damage instead.