Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ disorder) is thought to affect over 10 million people worldwide. The TMJ joint is located at either side of the head where the skull and jawbone meet, and it is used for many everyday activities like eating, talking and swallowing. When the joint is overworked or displaced, it can be attributed to a number of symptoms, habits, medical conditions and lifestyle-related problems, including:

  • Teeth grinding (bruxism)
  • Ear aches and/or TMJ headaches
  • Neck and/or facial pain
  • Extreme stress causing a tightening of the facial muscles
  • Osteoarthritis of rheumatoid arthritis

Outside of surgery, treatment options for TMJ disorder can include TMJ exercises, acupuncture, medications such as pain relievers and anti-inflammatories, physical therapy, oral splints and mouth guards.

However, many medical professionals believe there is another solution worth considering — botox for TMJ. But what is Botox, how does it treat TMJ disorder and what are the costs and side effects?

What is Botox?

Botox is the brand name of onabotulinumtoxinA and is often referred to as Botulinum Toxin. “Botox” is the term you hear most often because it was the first injectable botulinum toxin. It is a purified and highly diluted neurotoxin produced by the Clostridium botulinum bacterium. It is used cosmetically to reduce wrinkles and fine lines by blocking the nerve signal to the muscles, causing them to relax.

Botox was first used in the 1970s by ophthalmologists to treat eye conditions such as squint and blepharospasm (an involuntary blinking or eyelid spasm). In Australia, Botox was approved to treat chronic migraines in 2011, however, injection sites for chronic migraine differ from the sites used cosmetically.

How does Botox treat TMJ disorder?

When Botox is injected into the area, it relaxes the muscle and relieves jaw tension. As a result, the muscles aren’t able to engage in unconscious jaw movements that can cause headaches or pain.

With TMJ disorder-related conditions, it works to interfere with the temporomandibular joint’s ability to move. It doesn’t stop it moving completely, but reduces the amount of unconscious movement, and serves to cushion the jaw during activities like eating, talking, swallowing, and other everyday activities.

Is Botox for TMJ disorder safe?

In terms of the correct administration by dentists, the Dental Board of Australia’s position on Botox is that it is a safe treatment for the relief of TMJ disorders, including headaches, ear pain, clicking or popping noises and soreness of the jaw joint.

However, first a thorough assessment needs to be completed to determine whether you suffer from TMJ disorder. Once this has been confirmed, an individual treatment plan should be formulated which may include several modality treatment methods.

Before your Botox treatment, your dental specialist will discuss the risks and side effects. And although Botox for TMJ disorder is safe, there are certain medications, intoxicants and medical conditions that may hinder and/or minimise the procedure. That’s why it is vital you honestly disclose any medications, medical conditions and/or substance abuse before treatment with your dental specialist.

What happens during the Botox procedure?

Botox injections involve a non-surgical, outpatient procedure. Your dentist or other health providers can administer these on-site. Injections are administered via a small needle in the targeted areas — typically in the forehead, temple and jaw muscles — although additional sites may be injected depending on the severity of your pain. Only the targeted areas injected with Botox will be “relaxed” and injections should not affect other areas of your body.

Each treatment session generally takes from 15 to 30 minutes, although the length of treatment depends on the number of injections your specialist recommends. The injection may cause you to feel pain, similar to a prick, sting or insect bite.

What happens after the Botox procedure?

People who have had Botox treatment for TMJ disorder can expect to return to their regular activities as soon as they leave the dental surgery. Most patients experience noticeable improvement within one or two days of their first treatment, although relief can take up to a week.

Botox for TMJ disorder is a temporary muscle relaxant and not a permanent fix, so you need to be prepared to return for further treatment every few months, possibly on a permanent basis. Your specialist will decide on the number of injections you may need.

After the treatment, muscle tenderness should disappear almost immediately, however, you may experience nausea and temporary headaches, and numbness, redness or mild bruising around the injection sites. It is recommended you ease any pain with numbing cream or a cold pack.

You should remain upright and avoid physical activity and rubbing or massaging the injection site/s for several hours after treatment which will prevent the toxin from spreading to other muscles.

Botox for TMJ cost in Australia

In terms of botox for TMJ cost in Australia, the price will depend on the units of injectables, the number of sites injected, and the frequency of injections that are required. In terms of the number of units required, it could be between 40 and 100. Around $600 for 50 units is an average cost.

In terms of Medicare rebates for botox for TMJ, they are non-existent or minimal. In terms of health insurance, most insurance policies don’t cover muscle relaxant injections. However, some insurance funds may cover all or part of the cost if you have tried every other possible avenue and your GP is open to submitting an authorisation form.