Bob's experience with TMJ and the horn

I thought at least some of you NetHorns and NetBrass might be interested in my experience with some jaw problems that I have had in the past and what I did to try and alleviate the difficulties.

First here is what I experienced. In retrospect the symptoms began long before I had any idea what they were. As far back as high school, I had a front lower tooth that always was sensitive. I know now that it was due to my jutting my jaw forward when I slept at night. After never having a hint of problems, I one day woke up in the morning when I was about 23 and couldn't open my mouth. What an horrible frightening experience that was! I went to the hospital and was told that my wisdom teeth needed to come out. So I had that done, and took maybe two weeks off. I practiced, came back to playing with no ill effects.

In 1984, when I was 29, I had another bout of jaw wierdness, where I felt that somehow my jaw just didn't seem to want to be comfortable and fit right in my face. It just so happened that a collegue of mine in the bass section here in SF was being treated for TMJ (temporo-mandibular joint syndrome) and she recommended that I see a dentist that had fitted her with a night guard for her teeth. So I did the same, and that seemed to help. I also did some biofeedback that made me more aware of when my jaw was tense.

The next episode was in 1988 when my jaw was so messed up that the muscles wouldn't relax enough to allow my jaw to close -- it was jutting out too much. This time I had to take a month off from the horn and miss a tour ( to my home town -- what a drag). The treatment this time was a splint for my lower teeth (the first night guard was for my upper jaw) and this splint I wore all the time -- even to eat. Wearing the splint relaxed my jaw and I slowly went back to playing, although I had to remove the splint to play effectively, but that didn't seem too bad. I also did some more biofeedback. The thing that seemed to help me the most was Alexander technique. Through this I learned to change my posture while I played -- now I hold the horn up off my knee and don't jut my jaw out as much when I play. I also got some exercises to do to help loosen things up. Massage is also good.

These days my jaw is often stiff and I'm ususally aware of it in some way, but my playing hasn't been too adversely affected. I've lost some low chops, but in my job that's not essential.

I think that the two keys here are getting the jaw to be relaxed, especially after it was injured, and changing the way you play to prevent the same kinds of stresses on it that caused the problem to begin with.

A couple of things were suggested as cures or things that might help which I didn't do: File down my teeth, and build up my teeth to make my jaw higher. These seemed like extreme measures. Ultimately I was able to give up the splint I wore all the time, since it started not to feel right.

Some other thoughts: You eventually get used to a splint and your jaw learns to get tense with it too. These episodes were also tied to emotional changes in my life that were non-musical.

Anyway, perhaps this will be a fertile thread for some more discussion.

C ya,

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