Botox may help to ease jaw tension, headaches, and other symptoms of TMJ disorders. But this treatment approach isn’t without risks and side effects.

Botox, a neurotoxin protein, may help treat symptoms of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders. You may benefit most from this treatment if other methods haven’t worked. Botox may help treat the following TMJ disorder symptoms:

  • jaw tension
  • headaches due to teeth grinding
  • lockjaw in cases of severe stress

Read on to learn more about the use of Botox for TMJ disorders.

Learn more: Understanding jaw pain: How to find relief »

Botox may be effective in treating TMJ in some people. However, this treatment for TMJ disorders is experimental. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved Botox for use in TMJ disorders.

A 2012 study found that Botox could significantly decrease pain and increase mouth movements for three months following treatment. This was a small study that had only 26 participants.

The results of two other studies, one published in 2003, and the other published in 2008, were similar. In the 2003 study, there was improvement of symptoms in up to 90 percent of participants who didn’t respond to conservative treatments. Despite encouraging study results, researchers still recommend more studies to help better understand the full effectiveness of Botox treatment for TMJ disorders.

The most common side effects of Botox for TMJ treatment are:

  • headache
  • respiratory infection
  • flu-like illness
  • nausea
  • temporary eyelid droop

Botox may also cause a “fixed” smile that could last for six to eight weeks. The paralyzing effect of Botox on muscles causes this side effect.

There are also other reported side effects linked to the Botox injection. They generally appear within the first week of treatment and include:

  • pain
  • redness at the injection site
  • muscle weakness
  • bruising at the injection site

Botox treatment for TMJ disorder is a nonsurgical, outpatient procedure. Your healthcare provider can perform it right in their office. Each treatment session typically takes 10-30 minutes. You could expect to have at least three injection sessions over the course of several months.

Your healthcare provider will inject Botox into your forehead, temple, and jaw muscles. They may also inject other areas depending on your symptoms. Your doctor will decide the number of Botox injections you need. The injection may cause you to feel pain, similar to a bug bite or prick. Doctors recommend easing the pain with a cold pack or numbing cream.

Although some improvement can be felt within a day or two of treatment, it usually takes several days to feel relief. People who’ve had Botox treatment for TMJ can expect to return to their regular activities as soon as they leave their doctor’s office.

You should remain upright and avoid rubbing or massaging the injection sites for several hours after treatment. This helps prevent the toxin from spreading to other muscles.

Call your insurer to find out if they cover TMJ treatments, including Botox injections. They will likely not cover the treatment because the FDA has not approved Botox for this use. But it’s worth asking in case they do cover the treatment.

The cost of Botox treatment for TMJ will vary. Your treatment needs, the number of Botox injections, and the severity of your symptoms will determine how much you spend on the procedure. The geographic location where you receive treatment will also affect the cost. Treatment could cost anywhere from $500-$1,500, or more, according to one medical provider.

Botox injections are shown to be a relatively safe and effective treatment for TMJ disorders. But more research is needed to determine its full range of benefits.

If you’re interested in Botox treatment for TMJ, it’s important to keep in mind that you may have to pay for the procedure out of pocket. Your insurance provider may not cover the costs because the FDA has not approved Botox for treating TMJ. But if you haven’t responded to other treatment methods or don’t want an invasive procedure, getting Botox injections may provide you with the relief you need.

Botox injections aren’t the only treatment for TMJ. Other surgical and nonsurgical options can ease your symptoms. Traditional and alternative treatments for TMJ include:

  • medications such as pain relievers and anti-inflammatories
  • muscle relaxants
  • physical therapy
  • oral splints or mouth guards
  • open-joint surgery to repair or replace the joint
  • arthroscopy, a minimally invasive surgery that uses a scope and small instruments to treat TMJ disorders
  • arthrocentesis, a minimally invasive procedure that helps remove debris and inflammatory byproducts
  • surgery on the mandible to treat pain and lockjaw
  • acupuncture
  • relaxation techniques

Read more: 9 TMJ exercises for pain relief »

Talk to your healthcare provider about all of your treatment options. You may benefit from using a combination of treatments, or you may need to try several treatments before finding one that works for you.