Because of a venous malformation that I was born with in my upper gum and lip, I am missing some of the bone I need above my front upper teeth to counter the weight that pushes in from the clarinet. Back in 2004, when I experienced some loosening of one of my teeth and pain while playing, I consulted the experts at the University of North Carolina Medical and Dental Schools in Chapel Hill. Dr. Minsley, the prosthetics expert at the dental school designed an acrylic tooth guard for me to use while playing. It broke after three years of heavy playing, and Dr. Minsley made me a couple of more. Since then, I have relied on my local dentist, Dr. Patrick McGuire, to refit these for me whenever needed. I've been using these devices practically every time I put the clarinet into my mouth. As a result, I’ve had no further problems with pain or loosening teeth.
The photo at the right is of my newly refitted tooth guard, ready for practice. I have is to remember to keep this with me no matter what clarinet I play. I have to store the devices in water because they are acrylic and will become brittle if they dry out too much, so my reed water cup doubles as a tooth guard holder. It is a pain to have to put this in and out of my mouth all the time and I have to talk a little differently when it is in. No matter how careful I am, I often forget where I put it down in lessons, and some of my students know to remember where it is, so they can remind me when I forget! I can play a few bars without it and sometimes I warm up using double lip instead, but I would never choose to play without it at a rehearsal or performance. I am sure it seems like a lot of trouble to others, but for me, this tooth guard is a great blessing. It has saved my clarinet playing.