Music to the Teeth: How to Play Your Best while Protecting Your Pearly Whites

by MikeMeehan 11/10/2016 3:51 PM

Playing an instrument has plenty of benefits. It can stave off dementia. It can improve literacy in developing brains. And it fosters creativity. Music may be the language of the soul, but some instruments might not be the best on your teeth. Obviously, guitar and piano aren’t going to have a negative effect on your teeth (At least we hope you aren’t playing them with your teeth!). But some woodwind instruments (like clarinet, saxophone and harmonica) and brass instruments (like trumpet) could cause issues. For example, in jazz, when some trumpeters retire, musicians refer to them with “He lost his lip.” Because so much of playing uses the lip, improper technique can hinder you from your full potential. It can also cause problems to your teeth. In some instances, players have ended up with gaps in their teeth, as well as teeth pointing outward. Generally, these problems have a root cause. A Technique that Can Be Dangerous to Your Teeth When it comes to brass and woodwind instruments, you practice embouchure. Embouchure considers what you do with your mouth and tongue when you bring the mouthpiece to your face. Improper embouchure can lead you to clamp down on the mouthpiece. This is problematic for three reasons: It can cause your teeth to shift. For a similar reason to why braces straighten crooked teeth, clamping on the mouthpiece can shift straight teeth. In the case of braces, wiring applies pressure to the teeth, which straightens them over time. But with the mouthpiece, undue pressure is being placed on a few bottom teeth. Over time, those teeth can shift. You produce more saliva. Producing saliva isn’t a bad thing. In fact, the only time people say bad things about saliva is when not enough is produced, as this can lead to bad breath. Saliva is produced when we chew. The harder we chew, the more saliva we produce. With an instrument, the “chewing” happens on a mouthpiece, which is a non-food item. We’ve written about how chewing on a non-food item is bad for teeth. In regard to saliva, saliva can be rough on your instrument, as it can build up and cause pads or reeds to stick. The tone will be inconsistent. You might inadvertently hit more flat or sharp notes, or you won’t be able to keep the volume at a consistent level, or you won’t be able to hold out notes for as long as you’d like. Are You Making this Mistake? Why might you clamp down on your instrument’s mouthpiece? Well, it depends on which musician you ask. Some will say the problem is you aren’t resting enough. As a result, your lips become weak, because they’re pursed to the mouthpiece for too long, and you clamp down. Others say you’re exerting too much pressure to hit the notes. Musicians have a tendency to clamp down when they have to hit high notes. Whatever the case, the issue hearkens back to an old saying: Less is more. If you aren’t sure if you’re applying too much pressure, ask yourself the following questions. After you finish playing… Do you have a ring on your lips from the mouthpiece? Do your teeth ache? Do your lips feel numb? Are your lips swollen? If any of these are true for you, the pressure might be too much. But a couple of solutions are available: A Couple of Solutions to Push Off the Pressure Perfect your embouchure. It’s all about how you use your facial muscles and shape your lips to the mouthpiece of the instrument. Use an athletic mouth guard. You might benefit from using the bottom half of a mouth guard. You could also use a denture pad or dental wax. If you use a denture pad, you’ll need to change it regularly, as a lot of disgusting buildup can occur if you don’t.   It’s a good idea to take your oral health into account when you play. And good oral health can also keep your instrument in good shape for longer. Three Ways Good Oral Health Can Keep Your Instrument in Good Shape Brush your teeth before playing to avoid food particles in the reeds. If you practice multiple times a day, don’t over-brush. Rinsing your mouth out works just as effectively. You’ll especially want to brush/rinse if you’ve had something sugary. Sugar and saliva make a sticky combination that can cause a lot of damage to your instrument. For this reason, if you’re out playing a gig, you might want to avoid Grandpa’s “ol’ cough medicine” before the show, as drinks like beer and whisky contain malt sugar. Maybe stick with water with lemon instead. Wait 30 minutes after eating before playing to neutralize your mouth’s pH levels. This in effect renders your saliva a lot less volatile on the reeds. You can also rinse your mouth with mouthwash to loosen particles on the teeth. Don’t close your instrument case immediately after playing to allow remaining moisture to dry. This doesn’t have to do with your oral health per se. But depending on what instrument you’re playing, you might have a cleanup routine. For example, you’ll want to swab a saxophone, tap out the saliva from a harmonica and empty the spit valve on a trumpet. Even if you clean your instrument thoroughly afterward, a little moisture will remain. By putting your instrument in a case and shutting it, the moisture might cause damage to the reeds.     Playing music has a lot of benefits. And with the recent observation of National Saxophone Day, we don’t want to downplay those benefits. So keep playing and practice good oral health, for your and your instrument’s sakes!

After Halloween, Turn a Brush with Death into Better Teeth Brushing

by MikeMeehan 11/1/2016 3:26 PM

It’s the day after Halloween. At this point, you might loathe the holiday for the sugar buzz it’s given your kids. Or maybe you wonder already if you can convince your kids to reuse their costumes next Halloween. You might even think of the day after Halloween as the day when candy is sold in grocery stores on the cheap (though, if you have kids, probably not). For us, on the day after Halloween, we celebrate National Brush Day. Make no mistake: National Brush Day was intentionally designed to follow a holiday that indulges in collecting and gorging on too much candy. According to the American Dental Association, National Brush Day is meant to reach parents then for two reasons: to reinforce the importance of children’s oral health to promote good tooth-brushing habits We’d like to help you celebrate National Brush Day, too. Why Your Children Need to Brush Brushing and flossing can remove plaque, tartar and stains. These three culprits can cause problems of all sorts: Cavities Gum disease, like gingivitis or periodontitis Weakened tooth enamel, making teeth more susceptible to chips or cracks Conditions like these can wreak havoc on your children’s smiles. But the issues don’t stop there. In fact, a saying worth remembering is: You can’t spell overall without oral. As in, oral health directly affects overall wellness. Bad oral health doesn’t just put your children at risk for cavities, gum disease, and weakened tooth enamel; it can increase risks for serious conditions later down the road, like diabetes, heart disease and stroke. The solution, of course, is brushing, but only when done so properly. Watch out for these improper ways your children might go about it: Three Wrong Ways to Brush Brushing with force. Brushing too hard might make your children feel like they’ve gotten their teeth extra clean, but their teeth won’t be thanking them. Using too much force can lead to tooth abrasion, little notches in the teeth near the gums. Starting in the same place every time. Usually, when something is routine, the tendency is to start in the exact same place every single time. For brushing, this isn’t necessarily the best technique. It takes two minutes to brush. When your children start, the first tooth has their full attention. But by the time they’ve reached 1:45, they might be more concerned about whether their teacher will impose a pop quiz than with that particular tooth. For more evenly-cleaned teeth, have your children consider a new first tooth each time they brush. Leaving your toothbrush on a bathroom sink or counter. This isn’t really a brushing technique, but it can defeat an otherwise perfect routine. The bathroom isn’t exactly the cleanest room in your house — to avoid getting too “potty” mouthed about it — so your children’s toothbrushes are susceptible to germs if they park them there. Should they keep their toothbrushes in the bathroom, at least have them put the toothbrushes in a holder where they can air-dry, and where the bristles won’t touch the germy sink or counter. Pro-tip: If you’re on vacation and your children are using a travel bag, make sure they don’t store their toothbrushes while they’re damp, as bacteria can grow on a moist toothbrush. By this point, we’ve covered diseases that want to rob your children of their wellness, and wrong techniques that could prevent them from fighting those diseases. If this has you scared stiff by the amount of candy your children brought home, remember this: National Brush Day is the day after Halloween, so the witching hour is officially behind. Don’t let your children dig their own graves. Have them follow these six brushing techniques to keep up their perfect smile: Six Steps for Better Brushing Place your toothbrush bristles at a 45-degree angle to the gumline Use just enough pressure to feel bristles against your gums and between teeth. Don’t squish the bristles Brush all inner and outer tooth surfaces several times, using short, circular strokes. Be sure to brush along the gumline as well Brush chewing surfaces straight on. Clean the inside surfaces of front teeth by tilting the brush vertically and making up-and-down strokes with the front of the brush Clean only one or two teeth at a time Brush your tongue, as oral bacteria can remain in taste buds National Brush Day might not be as well-known as Halloween, but you may want to add it to your calendar. After all, most us can probably agree Nov. 1 is too early for the Christmas Creep.

Are You Using Your Teeth for the Wrong Reason?

by MikeMeehan 10/13/2016 3:22 PM

Recently, I moved. The house is older, so instead of a closet, a six-foot section of wall is set back where a cabinet for clothing could go. The other day, my dad helped me install wire shelving. It was fairly straightforward: He held the shelving up, I used a level, and then I drilled in an anchor screw. During the process, I was tempted to hold the anchor screw with my teeth. Luckily, I remembered: Teeth do not make a good “third hand.” Five Reasons Your Teeth Don’t Make a Good “Third Hand” It’s easy, with home projects, to bite off more than we can chew. We might need an extra hand, so we’re tempted to use our teeth to hold a non-food object. But teeth don’t make a good “third hand” for the following five reasons: Biting down on non-food objects can crack enamel. When you chomp down on non-food objects — anchor screws, sewing needles, pencils — it’s easy to forget just how much pressure gets put on the teeth. One study suggests humans can bite with a force equivalent to about 265 pounds. In my case, I probably wouldn’t have exerted that kind of pressure on an anchor screw. But one surprise jolt is all it would take to crack enamel. Your teeth are at risk of shifting. For a similar reason to why braces straighten crooked teeth, a non-food object can shift straight teeth. In the case of braces, wiring applies pressure to the teeth, which straightens them over time. But with non-food objects, undue pressure is being placed on just one tooth. Over time, that one tooth can shift. You risk damaging other dental work that’s already been done. When you use your teeth as a “third hand,” you risk cracking fillings, which aren’t as strong as enamel, or damaging other dental work that’s already been done. You expose yourself to a choking hazard. One hiccup or yawn and the object could become lodged in your throat. With anchor screws, maybe not so much. But for something smaller, like a sewing needle, yes. Biting down on non-food objects over time can be noticeable. For people who bite down on non-food objects out of habit, the damage can even have a noticeable effect. A seamstress might have small ridges or grooves worn into teeth over an extended period of time from holding sewing needles. The same goes for construction workers with nails.         But you might be guilty of something worse than using teeth as a “third hand.” What’s Worse than Using Teeth as a “Third Hand”? All of us have probably used our teeth to tear electrical tape, or strip insulation from copper wiring, or snap plastic label tags from clothes, or pop a pull tab on a can of soda. But each of these actions — using teeth as scissors, wire strippers or bottle openers — is far worse than using teeth as a “third hand.” When we use our teeth as a “third hand” for non-food objects, we might unconsciously place too much pressure on our teeth. But when we use our teeth to tear, strip, snap or pop, we consciously exert an undue pressure on our teeth. Yes, it might not be super convenient to find the scissors, but in the long run, grabbing the proper tools will be better. Not Just Limited to Non-Food Objects Do you know the Tootsie Pop commercial, with Mr. Owl’s sage advice to the question “How many licks does it take to reach the center of a Tootsie Pop?” Mr. Owl knows, intrinsically, most of us aren’t patient enough to handle hard candy in a manner that’s best for our teeth. Hard candy, ice cubes and shelled foods can pose just as much a threat to teeth as common nails, needles and screws. The temptation can sometimes be there — with nuts and other shelled foods (like crab legs or lobster tail) — to use our teeth as a nut- or seafood-cracker. We are committed to protecting smiles. And one of the easiest ways to protect your smile is to use your teeth for their intended purposes. Next time you might be tempted to use your teeth as a “third hand,” use the proper tools instead. You’ll be well on your way to maintaining an attractive smile for a long time.

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