The temporomandibular joint (TMJ)

my name is A and I am a junior in high school. I have been playing the clarinet seriously for about 6 years now and recently have been leaning towards majoring in music in college. This all seemed very reasonable to me, for I am involved in outside Wind Symphonies, orchestras, and have been working arduously on Debussy’s Premiere Rhapsodie, which I will be performing for with a piano accompaniment for New York State’s All State competition. However, in the past few weeks I have developed severe jaw pain and discomfort, and the clarinet makes it worse and almost unbearably sore. It began with a horrible clicking and a locked jaw feeling in which I could not open my mouth before hearing a large and painful clicking sound as my mouth disjointed and opened. For this past week, I have not played the clarinet and the pain has subsided to a lesser clicking with minimal soreness. My dentist ruled out wisdom teeth, and now I fear that this pain is only due to the clarinet and I will not be able to play anymore. This thought is so alarming and I am desperately looking for a solution to this problem. Is this common among clarinet players, or could I have already had a jaw problem that is only made worse because of the instrument?

It would be very much appreciated if any answers to these concerns could be addressed.
Thank you for your time.
Hello A:
Well, you have come to the right place and I hope that I can help you with your problem.
First and foremost I can tell you something I learned many years ago: if we were meant to play the clarinet, perhaps we would have been born with it in the womb.
Ridiculous, but, there is a certain truth in it, for we are always dealing with our bodies, attempting to get into the business of getting by all of the problems and into the business of making beautiful sounds and music.
One of mine has been teeth, and it has been mine all of my playing career, because I did not have good teeth and did not know how to get the best advice for taking care of them.
I have had pain, work and work and more work and probably have improved to the point of knowing much about my mouth and teeth.
Not your’s mind you, mine.
Even a doctor cannot tell you exactly what is worng, if anything unless he is a clarinetist, and I am anot a dentisr, but I am a clarinetist, so I can offer my experience to you from which to learn.
You sound as if you know what “biting” is on the clarinet: pain in the lower jaw from not keeping your jaw down, or possibly taking in too much mouthpiece, or using reeds which are perhaps too hard.
You must first see to the alignment of your teeth and the nature of your bite. Are you or has your bite changed?
If so, that coud be it.
Some dentists make bite plates for their patients to sleep with at night, for many of us bite all night long in our sleep possibly causing damage and certainly pain.
Or this, from the net:
connects the jawbone to the skull, allowing the jaw to open and close when we eat, talk or yawn, for example. If the bite is off-centre, the jaw won’t be working 100 per cent correctly and you may hear it clicking, a bit like a door with a faulty hinge”.
This problem may arise when there’s been an injury to the jaw or if the teeth are damaged. Inflammation arises in the joint, making it painful when the mouth is opened and closed, and especially when chewing food. People who grind their teeth at night suffer with this problem too.

Or, you could have some kind of problem with inflammation which can be eased by by taking a couple of aspirin or advil, both of which helps inflammation.

Let me know what you are playing on, reed strength, mouthpiece and facng.

Are you having trouble with the Debussy?

That is a very difficult piece for endurance and only can be played well on a reed upon which you can sustain without biting or having discomfort. I play that on a very flexible and easy reed, and all of the notes come out, they must with ease.

Let me know if this helps

good luck.

sherman friedland


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