Should Botox Be Used to Treat Temporomandibular Joint Disorder?

If you’re one of the millions of Americans who suffer from temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMD, you’d probably do just about anything to get fast relief. That could explain the soaring popularity of a controversial new TMD treatment, which uses the cosmetic injectable Botox to stop the temporomandibular joint from clenching up, helping to ease the pain and stiffness caused by TMD.

But not everyone is convinced that this “quick fix” treatment is the best way to treat TMD. Wexford, Pennsylvania, neuromuscular dentist Dr. Alexandra George is one such skeptic.

“First of all, Botox isn’t FDA approved for use in TMD,” says George. “So the efficacy of the treatment, as well as the potential risks, haven’t really been studied. The treatment is experimental at best.”

Additionally, George says that while Botox may bring patients relief, it’s only temporary.

“The problem with using something like Botox is that it’s not really correcting the problem. It’s a bandage. When the Botox wears off, so does the relief,” she says.

But what’s so wrong with that? Critics like George argue that simply masking the problem won’t prevent damage to the teeth, nor will it reposition the jaw – two things that are integral parts of TMD treatment.

“If you’re not looking at the whole mouth and jaw when you treat TMD, you’re only treating part of the problem,” she says. “You can’t expect complete relief if you’re only addressing a small portion of the problem.”

And that’s not all. George says that treating TMD with Botox is probably not covered by insurance, and that can really take a toll on your wallet.

“If you need to keep treating your TMD with Botox out of pocket every few months, that cost is going to add up fast,” she says. “On the other hand, when you opt for something like neuromuscular dentistry, even if your insurance doesn’t cover it, your initial investment covers the entire treatment plan, and since it’s correcting the problem instead of just masking it, you shouldn’t need more treatments later on.

But George says the biggest savings you can expect when choosing neuromuscular dentistry over quick fixes like Botox is the saving of something money can’t buy: your smile.

“Treating all the areas that TMD affects is the best way to protect your teeth from the excessive wear that’s so common with a misaligned jaw,” she says. “Besides, wouldn’t you rather treat the whole problem so all the muscles and joints work together comfortably than just treat one part and hope it helps?”

Dr. Alexandra S. George

Medically reviewed by Dr. Alexandra S. George - D.D.S., L.Vl.I.F. on June 6th, 2018