Botox, which is short for botulinum toxin, is typically used for aesthetic effect. Clinics offer injections of botox to treat wrinkles.
Recently more clinics have begun offering botox treatments for temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, which can cause chronic pain around the jaw and cheekbone.
In this article we’ll review the medical research on botox for TMJ to determine if it’s likely to be effective or if it's a waste of money.
There’s a significant amount of medical research testing the effectiveness of botox for treating TMJ. A 2020 medical review published by the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health examined the research on botox for TMJ.
The results were relatively negative. The study authors concluded that “None of the included systematic reviews expressed confidence in the efficacy of botulinum toxin for treating TMD.”
Some of the reviewed studies did contain positive results, but the researchers noted that there were so many different techniques and treatment approaches used that it was hard to come to a final conclusion. This field of study needs to become more standardized before researchers can recommend it as a treatment.
A different study on the topic found an interesting result. The researchers of this second study concluded that botox may be useful for patients who don’t respond to standard first-line TMJ treatments such as physical therapy and splint therapy. In patients who didn’t respond to standard TMJ treatments, subsequent botox treatments led to a statistically significant improvement in pain scores on average.
Another medical review published in the British Dentists Journal concluded that botox should be considered as a last-resort treatment option for TMJ, but due to the cost considerations and potential side effects, all safer options should be exhausted first.
This review mirrors the results from the second-linked study, which suggested that botox should only be recommended in a worst-case scenario.
Based on the available research, we can conclude that botox may be effective for treating TMJ, but shouldn’t be considered as a first option because it’s no more effective than more natural options like physical therapy on average, and the application process is not standardized in the medical community for treating TMJ.
As referenced above, there are several natural alternatives which may be superior to botox for treating TMJ, and significantly cheaper. We recommend that all patients speak with their doctor prior to starting a TMJ treatment, and the below information isn’t medical advice but rather a summary of research.
A thorough review on physical therapy for treating TMJ found it to be generally effective. The researchers reviewed various types of therapies such as jaw exercise, posture correction exercise and manual therapy. All therapies were found to reduce TMJ pain on average, with negligible side effects.
The benefit of physical therapy, compared with botox, is that there is essentially no risk. It’s simply a targeted form of exercise. Most doctors will refer a patient to a physical therapist if needed, so it may be worthwhile for patients suffering from TMJ to speak with their doctor about setting up an appointment with a physical therapist.
Red Light Therapy
In our infrared sauna review article, we highlighted the significant therapeutic potential of red light therapy. This treatment works because low wavelengths of red light can actually penetrate the skin barrier and directly influence metabolism.
It turns out that there is research proving that red light therapy is effective for TMJ. An extensive review published in the Pain Research and Management journal surveyed 31 individual clinical trials on red light therapy for TMJ.
The study authors found that red light therapy effectively relieves pain and improves functional outcomes in patients suffering from TMJ. Like physical therapy, red light therapy has very low risk when set up properly with the help of a trained physician.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
This discipline of therapy involves training patients to critically examine negative thoughts or feelings and change behavior patterns to optimize overall wellness. It was shown to be effective for managing PMS symptoms as we recently covered in our Flo Gummies review, and it’s been shown in medical studies to treat TMJ as well.
A meta-review from 2006 found that cognitive behavioral therapy caused negative TMJ symptoms to disappear entirely or improve in 112 out of 136 patients. The effects were seen after two months.
A more recent review, published in The Journal of Oral & Facial Pain and Headache, concluded similar. Researchers found that cognitive behavioral therapy improved outcomes for patients with TMJ.
When a therapy session is booked for treating a physical condition, it tends to be more likely to be covered by medical insurance than for mental health disorders. So we recommend that patients consult with their doctor before directly booking a cognitive behavioral therapy session, as the referral may help them save money and get the visit covered by insurance.