Botox may help relieve the symptoms of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved it for this condition, so its use is off-label.

TMJ disorders (TMDs) can cause jaw pain, headaches, and other symptoms. Conservative interventions are the first line of treatment, as they can often relieve the symptoms. For some people, though, TMD symptoms continue to be painful and disabling.

Botox for TMJ dysfunction can help paralyze some of the muscles involved, reducing pain and other symptoms.

Although research on animals suggests that Botox injections could weaken bones, a 2020 study on humans disagrees. People considering Botox for TMJ dysfunction should discuss the risks and benefits with a healthcare professional.

Read on to learn more about Botox for TMDs.

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A doctor can inject Botox into various jaw muscles.

This paralyzes the muscles, helping the person relax and reducing symptoms such as tensing the jaw and grinding. As a result, a person’s TMJ-related symptoms may improve.

A 2017 review of 24 studies found that Botox injections could reduce TMJ symptoms such as:

  • pain
  • jaw click
  • hypermobility and hyperactivity
  • limited jaw mobility

However, Botox is not a cure for TMJ issues. It is a temporary treatment that wears off over time. A person must repeat the treatment every few months to maintain the effects.

Research generally shows that Botox can improve the symptoms of TMJ dysfunction. However, experts consider it a “last resort” treatment option. Most studies investigating its efficacy have been small.

For example, a 2020 study involving 44 people — eight males and 36 females — with TMDs found that Botox injections improved several measures of these conditions, such as the ability to open the mouth fully. Overall, Botox led to a 59% pain reduction the first month after treatment and a 70% reduction in pain 6 months after treatment began.

Other research found that injecting Botox into the lateral pterygoid reduced TMD symptoms, regardless of the frequency, dosage, and injection method.

Botox comes from the bacteria Clostridium botulinum, which releases a neurotoxin that attacks the nervous system. Botox is the brand name version of botulinum toxin. It uses tiny quantities of the neurotoxin, which are too small to cause illness but can effectively paralyze muscles.

Targeting small muscles or groups of muscles may help relieve the pain of TMDs by releasing tension and reducing harmful jaw movements.

Researchers have also used Botox to manage other chronic pain conditions, such as migraine.

When treating TMJ dysfunction, a healthcare professional will inject Botox into the muscles that control the jaw. Getting Botox injections for another condition, or for cosmetic reasons, will not treat TMDs.

Some insurers may cover Botox for TMJ dysfunction, but others may not. In most cases, a person may have to try other treatments first.

However, in some cases, there is no coverage. For example, United Healthcare considers Botox unproven and medically unnecessary for TMJ dysfunction.

The cost of treatment depends on a person’s location and how many units of Botox they need. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it can cost several hundred dollars per session.

Doctors have not established a target dosage of Botox for TMJ dysfunction because the treatment is still experimental.

In a 2020 study, a typical participant received 40 units, getting 20 on each side. This is roughly double the typical dose for headaches. The researchers note the possible need to give lower doses to females than to males due to concerns about bone mineral density loss.

If a person is interested, they should contact a doctor or a dentist who offers Botox injections to discuss the ideal dosage for them. It may be best to start with a small dosage, especially if a person has known risk factors for osteoporosis.

Some possible side effects of Botox include:

Individuals who are pregnant or nursing should not use Botox.

Botox is not a cure for TMJ dysfunction. Instead, it is a pain relief option that a person will need to redo after it wears off. The effects of the treatment typically last 3–5 months.

The treatment works quickly, and a person should notice an improvement shortly afterward. As Botox wears off, the symptoms may return.

Several studies support the use of Botox for TMJ dysfunction, but the results have not been consistent, and the treatment carries a risk of side effects. A doctor will likely not recommend this treatment unless a person has tried other, more conservative options.

People with a diagnosis of TMJ dysfunction or possible symptoms of a TMD should consult a healthcare professional for treatment guidance.