Could Botox stop teeth grinding?

At my age, I have never considered Botox. Being the early side of 30, skin creams and face masks seem to be keeping those inevitable signs of aging at bay — for now. But new research suggests that this popular cosmetic procedure could tackle another problem: teeth grinding. Is it worth a try?

Last year, I found out that I grind and clench my teeth during sleep. This is a common condition known as bruxism, which is estimated to affect around 10 percent of adults in the United States.

I now have to wear a mouthguard at night. This not only gives my partner a fright when I turn to face him first thing in the morning, but the saliva that accumulates during the night is far from pleasant.

Though effective, my mouthguard is unlikely to stop bruxism at the source; it just reduces the damage to my teeth and jaw. This means that symptoms such as an aching jaw and headaches still occur.

In fact, there are currently no recognized treatments that can stop sleep bruxism.

Could Botox — a cosmetic procedure favored by celebrities for temporarily banishing fine lines and wrinkles — be a possible candidate for treating teeth grinding? A new study claims that it could.

In all honesty, I can't help but be cynical about this research, especially after I saw it was funded by Allergan Pharmaceuticals, who manufacture — yep, you guessed it — Botox. But, intrigued by the claim, I investigate further.

A teeth-clenching study

Botox — formally known as onabotulinum toxin-A — is an injectable drug that can prevent muscles from contracting.

The drug is best known for its cosmetic use; it can be delivered to the facial muscles — mainly those between the eyebrows and around the eyes — to temporarily reduce the appearance of frown lines and crow's feet.

Botox may also be used for a number of medical conditions, including migraine, overactive bladder, and muscle stiffness. Could bruxism be added to the list?

The new study — recently published in the journal Neurology — attempted to answer this question.

Notably, the study included just 22 people with bruxism – not exactly a huge sample. Participants spent a night in a laboratory, where the researchers monitored their teeth grinding and clenching.

The next day, 13 of the subjects were randomized to receive Botox, while the others were given a placebo injection. Injections were administered to the temporal and masseter muscles, which we use for chewing.

Around 4–8 weeks later, subjects were asked to spend another night in the laboratory, and the researchers reassessed their bruxism symptoms.

Botox for bruxism? It's early days

According to the team, people who were given the placebo injection reported no improvements in teeth grinding or clenching, but those who received Botox reported that their symptoms had "very much improved" or "much improved."

Those who had Botox also reported a reduction in pain, but there was no change in pain severity for those who had the placebo injections.

In terms of side effects, the researchers report that there were no adverse events, but that two of the participants noticed a "cosmetic change" in their smiles — but whether these "changes" were for better or worse is not disclosed.

Overall, the team concludes that Botox "effectively and safely improved sleep bruxism" in this trial.

Researcher Dr. William G. Ondo, of the Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas, notes that bruxism "is a very common problem with no established treatment, so these results are encouraging."

That might be the case, but, from a study of just 22 people, can we conclude that Botox is a viable treatment for teeth grinding? In my opinion, no. That said, it's worth further investigation.

It makes sense that a drug that stops muscle contraction — when injected into the muscles that control chewing — could prevent teeth grinding and clenching. Unlike current treatments for bruxism, such as mouthguards, Botox is attempting to tackle an underlying cause.

That said, I'm not sure I fancy a "cosmetic change" in my smile, and, compared with a mouthguard, Botox can be quite costly. I, for one, am yet to be convinced by Botox for bruxism, but I'll be interested to see what results future studies bring.

As Dr. Ondo says, "A larger study is needed to confirm these exciting results."