For the approximately 10 percent of Americans who suffer from the condition known as bruxism, or teeth grinding, relief can often be hard to come by. While it is unknown exactly what causes bruxism, many factors, including stress, anxiety, and psychological and genetic factors, could be to blame. Currently the most common and effective way to treat bruxism is with a mouth guard or night guard. Unfortunately, despite their effectiveness, many people with bruxism either cannot afford a mouth guard, or simply forget or choose not to wear it.
For those who are underwhelmed with the mouth guard and looking for a more permanent or less cumbersome solution to their teeth grinding, there may be good news on the horizon. A recent study published in the journal Neurology found that using the popular injectable cosmetic drug Botox in the temporal and masseter muscles of the face is an extremely effective way to temporarily stop teeth grinding.
"Patients in the study were injected with Botox in the facial muscles that are responsible for chewing, and by proxy, grinding the teeth. This seemed to alleviate a lot of the tension in the jaw, lessening and even stopping the tooth-grinding behavior," says Dr. Stephen Hill, a dentist in Allen, Texas, who treats patients with bruxism. "It’s a great solution for people who for whatever reason don’t wear a mouth guard."
Teeth grinding may not seem like a serious medical condition, but, according to Hill, it can cause everything from worn, cracked and broken teeth to lost fillings and tooth loss. Worse yet, many people don’t even realize they grind their teeth, often because the teeth grinding occurs in their sleep.
"It makes stopping hard to do when you don’t realize you’re doing it," says Hill.
Hill believes the main obstacle to convincing patients to try Botox for their bruxism will most likely be the fear that their face will change, as the drug is typically used to relax the deep creases of the face. Thankfully, almost none of the study’s participants noted any change in their facial features following the treatment, and notes on those who did didn’t mention whether the changes were positive or negative.
While using Botox for bruxism is currently an off-label use, some practitioners are already using the drug to treat other jaw disorders such as TMJ disorder with positive results. Many dentists like Hill hope that more studies will be conducted for Botox’s use in bruxism, and that the treatment will eventually earn FDA approval.