Embalming A to Z: Mouth closure

Date Published: 
May, 2005
Original Author: 
Todd Van Beck
A S Turner and Sons, Decatur, Georgia
Original Publication: 
ICFM Magazine, May 2005

When I started embalming I was often frustrated with my inability to get the correct mouth closure. I would fiddle and fuss for literally hours at time, with the constant pressure of being told time after time that "if the mouth is not correct, nothing will be correct on the funeral." Pressure!

As usual, I studied all the pertinent literature on the subject, became familiar with terms like weather line, needle injector, tack, lip cream, adhesive, lip wax, mandibular suture, phenulum suture, etc, Still I had cases which seemed to defy the theories and procedures, and every embalmer I spoke to assured me that their method was the best and that they had never once had a complaint from a family. This information did not help my confidence at all.  Of course today I realize that those embalmers who claimed absolutely 100 percent family satisfaction were either exaggerating terribly or had not done much embalming in their careers.

One day while I was working to get the right mouth closure I realized that while working with the lips and mouth, I could literally feel a type of tissue resistance when I was attempting to position the lips to the natural weather line. Finally I had a hunch (which I learned to trust in embalming, more than theory) that the tissues, muscles and structures which made up the mouth area needed to be stretched. So I took a dry paper towel and rolled the towel under the bottom lip of the mouth and very gently stretched it upward over the top lip as far as it would go.

Then I rolled the paper towel under the top lip and very gently stretched the top lip down as far as it would go covering the bottom lip. Be prepared for the fact that if you decide to implement this procedure the lips will look terribly misshapen for a while.

Next, take a reasonable amount of regular massage cream and cover the lips, top and bottom, with the cream. Then simply purse the lips together and the tissues will fall naturally into the weather line closure.

I was amazed and often relieved at the amount of elasticity I created by using the paper towel technique. Be careful not to press and push on the lip tissue too much, for it can damage the tissue, and upon injection the damaged tissue will swell.

This technique also offers additional centimeters of lip extension when attempting to correct prognathism.

Give it a try on your next case and let me know how it works. Call or e-mail me—I am always interested in learning new and improved embalming techniques.