Can Botox treat TMJ? Risks, Benefits, and Other Options

You have undoubtedly heard of Botox injections used to enhance lips, cheeks, etc., or to smooth out wrinkles across the forehead or around the eyes. But you may not be familiar with the use of Botox as a relief from the pain of TMJ disorder.

TMJ disorders affect the jaw joint and surrounding facial muscles. At best, a TMJ disorder can cause chronic jaw pain, and at worst, it can result in a host of vague symptoms that can go undiagnosed for months, even years.

The symptoms of TMJ disorders affect more than your teeth and jaw. This is another reason why a holistic and biological approach is best.

At Rejuvenation Dentistry, we can assess and diagnose TMJ disorders, quickly improving your overall health and wellness.

So, let’s take a look — can Botox treat TMJ?

What is TMJ?

TMJ, also known as TMD (temporomandibular joint disorder), occurs due to the temporomandibular joint becoming displaced or swollen from specific stressors.

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) can be found on both sides of the head where the skull and jawbone meet.

For a moment, place 2 fingers on either side of your face, just in front of your ears. Then open your mouth, swallow, or speak. You know, activities in which you engage throughout the day and even though the night if you grind or clench your teeth in your sleep.

You will quickly note how vital the jaw muscles are in typical head and neck movements.

TMJ Symptoms

The most common symptoms of TMJ include:

  • Jaw pain (may be achy or sharp)
  • Popping or clicking in the jaw when chewing or talking (can often be painful)
  • Limited ability to open or close the jaw (lockjaw)
  • Swelling in the face
  • Neck and/or shoulder pain
  • Headaches/migraines and toothaches
  • Earaches and ringing in the ears

TMJ Causes

The most common causes are teeth grinding (bruxism), clenching your teeth, and even heavy or aggressive chewing of tough or crunchy foods.

Possibly a more familiar term, lockjaw, is a more severe result of TMJ when stress on the jaw actually causes it to lock and keeps you from opening your mouth very wide.

Other types of stress, unrelated to the use of the jaw muscles, can also increase the discomfort of TMJ.

When under pressure from work, school, or just a hectic life, you may realize the muscles around the face and neck are tense. Your teeth may be clenched tight together.

These are important things to notice and address because they all contribute to the symptoms of TMD.

Can Botox Treat TMJ?

The short answer is, yes, the use of botox may temporarily solve the problem of TMJ. However, botox injections are considered an alternative treatment of TMD. Botox does not treat the root cause of the TMJ.

But if injections are successful in relieving TMJ pain and discomfort, you’ll be in a better place to discuss other treatment options, such as realigning your bite or fitting a DNA appliance.

How Does Botox Help with TMJ and Jaw Tension?

When Botulinum toxin is injected into the temporalis and masseter muscles, it limits muscle function and relieves pain associated with TMJ.

Once facial pain, headaches, swelling, and discomfort are under control, you can more easily address other outside stressors that increase TMD symptoms.

Remember, these symptoms affect more than your teeth and jaw. This is another reason a holistic and biological approach is best. Assessing and diagnosing TMJ disorders will allow us to further improve your overall health and wellness.

Areas Treated with Botox for TMJ Therapy

Botox injections can be given in several facial muscles: jaw, forehead, temples.

Your dentist will carefully examine your jaw, face, cheeks, and neck and talk to you about your symptoms. Then, they will determine where and how many injections are needed at each visit.

The injections themselves may produce pain somewhat like a bee sting.

How long does Botox last for TMJ?

Most injections of Botulinum toxin A for TMJ will last approximately 3-4 months.

Immediately following your treatment, you should be able to return to normal function. The instructions you may be given include:

  1. Avoid rubbing or massaging the areas where the injections were given.
  2. Sit upright for several hours to keep the botox from moving into other areas around the injection site.
  3. If you feel stinging or discomfort around the injection site, use a cold pack for comfort.

Is Botox Treatment for TMJ Safe?

As I mentioned before, the use of Botox for TMJ is considered an alternative treatment and is not approved by the FDA to treat or cure TMD. However, in other parts of the world, this TMJ treatment is commonly used and is considered very effective.

Does Botox cause pain after treatment?

The most common side effects reported after botox for TMJ include:

  • Headache
  • Respiratory infection
  • Flu-like symptoms/illness
  • Nausea
  • Temporary eyelid droop

Other less common side effects from receiving Botox treatment for TMJ may include:

  • Redness or mild swelling at the injection sites
  • Discomfort around the injection sites (much like the soreness after a vaccination)
  • Some muscle weakness
  • Minor bruising around the injection site(s)

Risks and Benefits of Botox

As with any procedure, even one that is considered minor and can be performed in your dentist’s office, there are risks.

Some muscle tightness can occur around the jaw bone, creating increased jaw tension.

However, besides the temporary side effects listed above, Botulinum toxin A shots as a treatment for TMD are relatively safe and effective.

Many people consider the benefits to outweigh the risks.

The possibility of decreased headaches, or for some, migraines, and the thought of chewing without pain makes this treatment option very attractive.

Does Insurance cover Botox treatment for TMJ?

It’s always advisable to call your insurance company and ask about coverage for Botox treatment for TMJ.

However, most insurance policies do not cover this treatment, the biggest reason being it is not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration. It is considered an off-label treatment.

Prices for the treatments range depending on the number of injections you receive and the area of the country in which you live. Generally, out-of-pocket spend will range between $500-$1,500 and sometimes more.

As with any medical treatment or procedure, I recommend you talk openly and frankly with your dentist’s office staff about the cost.

Alternative Treatments for TMJ

After careful examination, your dentist may recommend other treatment options such as:

  1. DNA appliance (which can address the root cause of sleep apnea and may relieve pain from nighttime teeth grinding)
  2. Mouthguard/night guard (I do not recommend this, as it does not address the root cause of the condition)
  3. Dry needling
  4. Muscle relaxers
  5. OTC meds like pain relievers and anti-inflammatories
  6. Physical therapy
  7. Open-joint surgery to repair or replace the joint
  8. Arthroscopy (minimally invasive surgery)
  9. Arthrocentesis (a minimally invasive procedure that helps remove debris and inflammatory byproducts from the jaw)
  10. Surgery on the mandible joint
  11. Acupuncture
  12. Other relaxation techniques

What is the safest treatment for TMJ?

Botox may temporarily help with TMJ. Some studies support this, but most practitioners agree that more in-depth research is needed.

However, as I mentioned above, it comes with risks besides the possible pain/discomfort around the injection site. Depending on your personal experience, you may be willing to take the risk.

  • Headache
  • Respiratory infection
  • Flu-like symptoms/illness
  • Nausea
  • Temporary eyelid droop

As with any treatment you consider, I encourage you to ask questions and discover all you can about the treatment options available.

At Rejuvenation Dentistry, we strive to provide the best natural treatment for TMJ, designed to benefit the whole person in the long run. Schedule an appointment today!

Dr. Gerry Curatola is a renowned biologic restorative dentist with more than 40 years of clinical practice experience.

He studied neuroscience at Colgate University and attended dental school at the New York University (NYU) College of Dentistry where he now serves as Adjunct Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Cariology and Comprehensive Care.