Last month, I made my way to the Upper East Side in search of one thing: a round of Botox for my jaw. While Botox is known for easing the look of wrinkles, it also helps to relax whatever muscles it's injected into (and in this case, I was hoping to soothe my case of TMJ). See, over the last few months, every time I'd lie down on an esthetician's table, they'd bring up TMJ. More specifically, that I had it and needed to do something about it. Without wanting to seem uninformed, I'd nod, tell them, "I know, I really should," and try my best to change the subject.
The fact of the matter, though, is that I was pretty unclear about what TMJ actually was—and why they could tell it was affecting me. First was the obvious conclusion: I grind my teeth. But then during a facial with Take Care founder and anatomy, yoga therapy, Ayurveda, and body-mind–centering specialist Sadie Adams, Adams mentioned she could also tell I was afflicted because of the way I "propped" my head on the pillow rather than relaxing and letting my head sink in.
"TMJ can be a result of bone deformity, favoring one side while you sleep, or sleeping without consideration of alignment and support," Adams tells me. "It can also form from grinding your teeth with a misaligned bite. There's also favoring one side while chewing (as it can lead to teeth ware and an unbalanced bite). It can also contribute to changes in your face as your muscles become disorganized, with some overworking while others atrophy. The natural aesthetic of the face can be altered if teeth shift, if bone loss occurs, or if the bite and jaw are off-balance."
Once I realized this was something I really had to start looking into (and the more I thought about it the more I realized my jaw was tense most hours in the day), I contacted Lisa Goodman of GoodSkin Los Angeles, an injection specialist I'd met earlier in the year and really connected with.
"I recommend injecting Botox into the masseter muscle," says Goodman. "A lot of people think mouth guards help, but these only protect against your teeth." Botox works to relieve that jaw tension and pain, she told me. It can eliminate headaches, teeth grinding, and lockjaw by relaxing the muscle that unconsciously creates such stress. This will keep your jaw muscles from looking defined and your jaw from seeming wider.
So when she was in town, I headed over to her office in search of a lot less tension. The entire process took only a few minutes, with a few injections on either side of my face, directly into my jaw muscles. It didn't hurt really (and you can trust me—I'm a wimp), and it was over before I knew it. "You won't start to notice results for a week or two," she told me, and I left with hope for a clench-less future.
She was right: I didn't notice any difference for the first few weeks. I was grinding, clenching, and getting my usual tension headaches. But then something new happened. I found myself having to actively relax my muscles less and less, the headaches stopped turning up, and I mostly forgot about my affliction until having to research TMJ to write this piece. Below, I break down exactly what to expect during and after the appointment.
"The injections go into the masseter muscle," explains Dara Liotta, MD. "The masseter muscle is one of the muscles activated during chewing. It's located at the angle of the jaw. I usually start with 50 units of botox (25 units on each side). It takes five minutes.
"When Botox is used to relax the facial muscles that cause fine lines, the maximum effect is seen in seven to 10 days. Similarly, when Botox is used to relieve the pain of TMJ and teeth-grinding, you should expect some pain relief in around a week. When Botox is used to reduce masseter muscle hypertrophy cosmetically, the maximum effect is not seen for between six weeks and three months.
"Botox can be used both functionally (to weaken the masseter muscle, which is the main teeth-grinding muscle, and improve the pain of TMJ from teeth grinding), or cosmetically to thin the masseter muscle and take away a square look to the angle of the jaw from a hypertrophied (or overgrown) masseter muscle, softening the look of the lower face."
There's no downtime, no residual pain, and I was on my way back to work without any marks or bruising. In the coming weeks, I started to notice far less clenching. It still happens, but not at every moment of the day (as it was previously). I'm going back in for another appointment in two months to maintain the results, as they're supposed to last six months (and up to nine after you've been getting them for a while). I'm super happy with the results and can't wait for the pain to continue to lessen.
I'll keep you updated.