HBM – Wisdom Teeth

Hurt with increased volume and/or increased range because muscles flex harder and push against teeth

Nerve by lower wisdom teeth can be cut if teeth are impacted; permanently lose feeling to lower lip; modern dentists seem to be aware of this possibility and take care to avoid it; NEVERTHELESS, be certain to discuss it with them – there is no repairing a cut nerve

One of my teachers had no feeling in her lower lip; I suspect poor dental work was the cause; in spite of that, she played very well

After surgery, do not play for two weeks (in the 1970’s, dentists said one week off; more recently, they say two weeks off, and some are now saying three weeks off; the empty sockets hurt from the increase in air pressure caused by playing and there is the possibility of air being forced into the empty socket, which causes healing problems

Be sure to flush the empty sockets with salt water by using a syringe with a curved tip; tea bags can help with dry socket

An E-Mail Conversation with Abbie Brown Concerning Her Impending Oral Surgery

So, I am scheduled to get the teeth out on the 30th of this month. The doctor and I talked a long time about my trumpet playing and he said that I should anticipate at least 2 weeks if not 3 weeks of not playing 🙁 However, he said he should have a better estimate of the time I should take off after the operation so it could go really well meaning that I may not have to wait too long. Either way, he said that the worst thing I can do is start playing too soon and mess up the healing which would put me out for at least a week longer. No matter what, it looks like I’ll have just started playing when tour starts so we’ll have to see how it goes. Hopefully I’ll be able to get everything dealt with the first couple weeks of school at the latest. I’ll email you as soon as the surgery is done and give you a full update.



Thanks for keeping me up to date.  I sure hope the doctor is wrong.  I’ve never heard of it taking more than a week to heal to the point you can play, although there still is minor pain.  David Laubach said he was doing fine in two days!  Did the doctor tell you how you would know if you are messing up the healing?  Perhaps you can ease into it by playing lower, softer, and with lots of rest.

Pat Sheridan, the world class tuba player, told me that Ifor James, the world class horn player, said it only takes 60 minutes per day for three days for the embouchure to get completely in shape, and it only takes three days of laying off to completely lose your strength.  Every good brass player told Ifor he was crazy, so he got some medical doctors to research this, and they concluded that Ifor was right!  After an hour a day for three days in a row, the embouchure doesn’t get any stronger.  Apparently, the embouchure is made up of sheath muscles (whatever that means), and they respond differently than biceps, triceps, etc.

I can’t imagine that 60 minutes per day of low C is the same as 60 minutes per day of double high C, so I think there must be more to the equation than just an hour a day.  To support Ifor’s claim, I have notice that when I used to take time off the horn, the first few days back were miserable, but after about three days, things started to feel pretty good.  Also, years ago Dr. Branstine and Dr. Sommer were talking about physical labor outdoors and that after three days of it, they started feeling pretty good.  Also, for years I have noticed that when I practiced two hours per day (which is about 60 minutes of actual playing), I felt really good about my playing.  At 90 minutes practicing per day (45 minutes of playing), I felt uncertain, and at 60 minutes practicing per day (30 minutes practicing), I had no idea what would come out the bell.  That tends to support 60 minutes as the magic number.

Which leaves one more question — if an hour per day of practicing is all it takes to be in shape, how do people play many, many hours per day?  If Ifor is correct, the answer has to be proper use of the air and relaxation, which means only using the amount of effort necessary to play, which increases your efficiency and maximizes your endurance.  Pat Sheridan also told me that Arnold Jacobs, the greatest brass teacher of all time, told him that when your chops got tired, they weren’t really tired.  Tired chops means that you aren’t breathing correctly.  I thought this was the craziest thing I had ever heard, so decided to give it a try.  When I was playing and my chops felt bad, I would blame my air and focus on breathing better.  I was shocked — within a couple minutes my chops felt fine.  According to this, tired chops are a signal that your breathing is bad — the chops are not actually tired, they just feel that way.

So, there’s hope!  Since you’ll have plenty of time on your hands while you can’t play, why don’t you do some research on the web and see what you can find out about this?  This could be great material for a research paper at some point in your career, so be sure to keep track of your sources.

Another thing, I’m assuming that the doctor is concerned about the air pressure slowing your healing, but maybe you could do isometrics with your embouchure.  Exercises like firming your embouchure and holding it for a long period of time (hold it like you do with leak and seal, with a forward focus to the lips), or holding a pencil or a penny with your lips only (be sure to keep your chin down — it has a tendency to bunch up), or put a pencil in your mouth and squeeze it with your lips from all sides, like pulling a drawstring bag tight.

I’m sure isometrics will hurt at first, just like it hurt to you to play when your wisdom teeth were so tender, but it might allow you to start getting your strength back before the healing is complete.

And, you can work on your breathing, like breathing gym exercises (which Pat Sheridan co-authored) or the Arnold Jacobs breathing exercises at the back of the Trumpet Handbook.

I know you will be hurting, but look forward to guilt-free time off the horn.  That doesn’t happen very often!

Dr. Buckner