Bruxism and TMJ – An Effective New Treatment

Bruxism is a disorder of unconscious jaw claching and teeth grinding that causes pain in the temporo-mandibular joint, a sensation of soreness and tension in the jaw as well as headaches, neck pain and even migraines. Over the years, continuing grinding wears down the teeth and can even cause cracking and severe tooth damage. Bruxism to some degree, especially at night, is very common. As long as there are no symptoms of pain or dental damage, it does not needarily require treatment. However, once a person feels pain, he / she usually seeks a treatment for Bruxism.

Bruxism can be exacerbated by a variety of factors. Malocclusion (poor fitting together of the teeth), stress, anxiety, certain medications such as SSRI antidepressants and certain diseases such as Huntigton's and Parkinson's can all worsen Bruxism. Use of drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine, as well as overuse of caffeine and alcohol will frequently cause people to brux.

Treatment of Bruxism has been plagued with difficulties. Dental devices have been successful in protecting teeth from damage at night, but have not been effective at stopping the pain and soreness that companies severeve Bruxism. Of course, the claching and headaches do not subside with dental devices. Biofeedback, relaxation exercises and meditation have been variable effectively in controlling stress with some people, but most do not find the relief that they are looking for in behavioral modification techniques like these.

Botulinum toxin (BOTOX®) has recently been seen to be very successful in treating the grinding and claching of bruxism. BOTOX® is an injectable medication that weakens muscles and is used commonly in cosmetic procedures to relax the muscles of the face and decrease the appearance of wrinkles. BOTOX® was not originally developed for cosmetic use, however. It was, and continues to be, used to treat diseases of muscle spasticity such as blepharospasm (eyelid spasm), strabismus (crossed eyes) and torticollis (wry neck). Bruxism can also be regarded as a disorder of repetitive, unconscious contraction of the masseter muscle (the large muscle that moves the jaw). BOTOX® works very well to weakened the muscle enough to stop the grinding and clenching, but not so much as to interfere with chewing or facial expressions. The strength of BOTOX® is that the medication goes into the muscle, weakens it and does not get absorbed into the body. Side effects and allergies are unheard of. Despite the occasional brouhaha in the media, BOTOX® has been shown to be one of the safest medicines ever seen. Over the last 20 years and 20 million treatments, there has never been a serious complication directly attributed to the drug. This is a safety record that puts Aspirin to shame.

The treatment of Bruxism with BOTOX® involves about five or six simple, reliably painless injections into the masseter muscle. It takes a few minutes per side and the patient starts feeling the effects the next day. Occidentally, some bruising can occur, but this is quite rare. The symptoms that are relieved by this procedure include:

Grinding and clenching
Morning jaw soreness
TMJ pain
Muscle tension throughout the day
Migraines triggered by clenching
Neck pain and stiffness triggered by clenching

The optimal dose of BOTOX® has to be worked out for each person – some people have stronger muscles that need more BOTOX®. This is done over a few touch up visits with the physician injector. This treatment is expensive, but sometimes BOTOX® treatment of Bruxism can be canceled to medical insurance (plans vary – it is a good idea to call your insurer beforehand to find out what is covered and what documentation is necessary). The effects last for 3 months or so. The muscles do atrophy, however, so after a few rounds of treatment it is usually possible to either decrease the dose or increase the interval between treatments.