I have to admit that utilizing Botox, or botulinum A, as a therapeutic treatment for dental and TMD-related conditions was not something I ever anticipated integrating into my practice. Like many of us, my first impressions of Botox came through the huge media attention surrounding the introduction of Botox Cosmetic in 2002. I was hearing a lot about Botox parties for frown lines and wrinkles, but at that time, I had no idea that Botox had been used as a therapeutic medical treatment long before the introduction of Botox Cosmetic.
Botox, as manufactured by Allergan, is now one of three formulations of botulinum A available for medically therapeutic treatment. Botulinum A is a controlled form of the botulinum toxin, a nerve toxin produced by infection with the bacterium clostridium botulinum, commonly known as botulism. One of the most devastating effects of uncontrolled botulism is extreme muscle paralysis. Untreated, this paralysis can become deadly. However, as early as the 1950s, scientists began studying the botulinum toxin as a separate entity from the bacterial infection and discovered that, in small doses, the toxin itself could be used to reduce muscle spasm.
Through the 1960s and 1970s, scientific studies continued to explore the use of botulinum toxin specifically as a treatment for strabismus, or crossed eyes. Finally, in 1989 after nearly 40 years of scientific research, Botox (as introduced by Allergan) was approved by the FDA for the therapeutic treatment of crossed eyes and eyelid spasms.
Today, even though Botox Cosmetic still remains the most visible use of the botulinum toxin, many additional medically therapeutic applications of botulinum A continue to be researched and discovered, including dental applications.
Targeting specific muscles around the lips, botulinum A can significantly improve conditions like gummy smiles, upside-down smiles, lip lines and creases, as well as chronically puckered chins. These treatments are not permanent, but there is growing evidence to support that treatment with botulinum A over time can retrain these muscles into a state of improved relaxation and natural function.
Treating other muscles of the face, head, and neck with botulinum A have also demonstrated measurable relief for headache pain related to chronic and unrelenting tension in these muscle areas. Of course, headaches are almost always caused by multiple triggers and those factors should be concurrently addressed during botulinum A therapy. But for those patients whose muscles simply cannot seem to let go of chronic spasm, treatment with botulinum A can sometimes offer a level of relief that might otherwise not be achievable through other types of therapy.
Certainly, treatment with botulinum A is not appropriate for everyone, and it is not a permanent cure for any of the conditions I’ve mentioned. However, it can be an invaluable tool in improving pain levels and visual appearance while other more permanent treatment solutions are being pursued. If you would like to learn more about each of the specific botulinum treatments that are now available in our office, I invite you to take a look at our newest resource article, Botox in Dentistry. Current or new patients are also always welcome to ask about botulinum treatment at any regular dental appointment, or to call the office to schedule a consultation.