I always thought that if, OK when, I first got Botox (AKA Botulinum toxin), it would be a preventative measure (Though is 29 too late for “preventative”?). Instead, my first experience with Botox ended up being for a very different reason — I was so frustrated with my TMJ disorder that I was willing to try anything, even medical advice from a Real Housewife.
I didn’t even realize I had a TMJ disorder for years. It wasn’t until I switched dentists and she was doing some routine checks and X-rays that I found out. “How long have you had that click in your jaw? Is it hurting to open that much?” my new dentist asked me. “Whhhhut cwiiiick?” I asked as she continued to poke around in my mouth. But like Pandora’s box, as soon as she opened the door to that realization, I couldn’t escape it. It was constant. Big yawn? Click. Going for a bite of a sandwich? Click click. Heated make out sesh? CLICK.
It was ruining my favourite activities and making me feel self-conscious. Think of every time you open your mouth wide: do you really want to sound like a femme bot creaking to life or a cobra unhinging its jaw before swallowing its prey whole? Not so much. I started asking my friends if they had noticed it. “Oh, you’ve had that for years. I thought you knew?”
As someone with struggles loving their body, I felt like it was betraying me, giving me a small but significant reason to feel like an alien within my own being. I have to admit that more than the concern for my jaw health, it became an easy thing to hyperfixate on and convince myself that if I just fixed this one thing…
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What is a TMJ disorder?
Let’s back up. A TMJ (or temporomandibular joint) is what connects your lower jaw to your skull. Healthline describes a few common disorders associated with TMJ such as: teeth grinding, jaw pain, stiffness or limit movement of the jaw, clicking and popping, headaches and in extreme cases, lockjaw. TMJ disorders are more common in women, and can be difficult to diagnose as they have many contributing factors like stress, teeth grinding and even diet.
My own TMJD (temporomandibular joint disorder) was likely from grinding my teeth at night, so my dentist quickly hooked me up with a night guard. Still, there were two main symptoms that were hard to reverse: jaw soreness and the dreaded jaw click.
For over a year, I wore the night guard hoping it would help stop the clicking. While it did protect my teeth from further wear while grinding (yay), it didn’t stop the pop. I tried mouth stretches in the morning and giving my jaw a gentle massage to try to soothe the sore muscles. Still, the jaw clicking continued. I could do it on command now, feeling the joint sliding out of alignment as I opened my mouth.
I began asking around, doing a Goog’ or two. The first time I heard about Botox as a treatment was in an article where Bethenny Frankel sang the procedure’s praises for her jaw pain. The former Real Housewives of New York star also credited the procedure for softening her jaw and slimming out her face, making it appear more feminine (another reason why some get Botox in their jaw muscles, for the cosmetic benefits). I asked my dentist about it the next time I saw her, and she heartily agreed that it could help in my case.
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So, how can Botox help with TMJ disorders?
Botox can be used to treat TMJ disorders where other methods have failed, like with me. The treatment works by injecting the Botox into the jaw and masseter muscles which essentially relaxes them. While Botox does not treat the root problem, it can relieve the pain related to TMJ disorders as well as reduce clicking and lockjaw. The severity of your disorder will determine how much Botox should be administered. In many cases, it will take a few sessions and to maintain efficacy, you’ll need to receive injections every three to four months.
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How much will Botox for TMJD cost?
Technically, it’s still an off-label treatment as Botox injections, while approved for cosmetic purposes and even to fight headaches, are not officially approved as a treatment for TMJ disorders. That means that — while it’s not difficult to find a practitioner who is able to administer Botox for a TMJ disorder in Canada — it will not be covered by most health insurance plans. So, if you want to go this route, you’ll have to pay out of pocket. The exact amount you’ll pay will vary depending on the practitioner and the number of units you need. A full syringe of Botox is typically 100 units and in Canada, the cost varies between $10 and $20 per unit. To treat a TMJ disorder, anywhere between 20 to 50 units of Botox is injected on each side of your face. That means that the procedure can range from $500 to $2,000 in total.
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The procedure: Botox for TMJD while abroad
After mulling it over for months, I finally decided to take the step of trying Botox to solve my jaw click. I had moved abroad and was starting to slack on wearing my night guard (thanks in part to getting into a new relationship and wanting to maintain my vanity). In my opinion, the jaw click was getting more pronounced.
After some research, I found that in my current base of Portugal it was a lot more affordable to get Botox. With the help of Google translate, I began hunting down a clinic. It did take a bit more work to find a clinic that was able to administer it in the jaw muscles to treat my TMJD than if I were getting it for strictly cosmetic purposes. I didn’t want to go to a lash bar-slash-clinic, since this felt more medical. This also likely made my experience a bit more costly, but it still came to a very affordable $480 CAD for a full syringe (100 units). At the clinic I visited, I had to buy the full syringe, which could be used in multiple visits.
The first session
To treat my TMJD, the Botox was administered in two sessions, a few weeks apart from one another. The practitioner explained that this was so my face didn’t get too frozen (I needed to still be able to chew food, after all!) given that this was my first time getting Botox. To start, she consulted me on my TMJD and felt my muscles, having me open and close my mouth a few times as she determined exactly where to administer the Botox, and how many units to use per side of my face. She made a few marks on my face and then it was time to get jabbed.
I lay down on the medical chair and made a scrunched-up face so that the muscles were more pronounced and easier to find. The first injection was a dull pain where I could feel the Botox entering the muscles. I was told to relax my face as the Botox was injected in. It felt thick and slow. The first side was much harder for me pain-wise, maybe because of the nerves, versus the second where knew what to expect. On a scale of one to 10 (10being an IUD replacement procedure), I’d say it was about a three — worse than I had anticipated and I felt lightheaded afterwards but the whole procedure took just minutes and after sitting and having a glass of water, I was fine. Consultation to payment, I was out of the clinic in under half an hour.
The recovery and round two
The practitioner made sure to emphasize that I needed to avoid crunchy foods that day. It’s also important to sleep on your back to avoid the Botox shifting. For me, this was actually the hardest part! My sleeping style is best described as rotisserie chicken: I love to roll, all night long.
After a restless night (I was convinced I would turn on my face and cause the Botox to shift after dropping nearly $500 on it), I was pretty exhausted and sore the next day. I found myself constantly checking the mirror to see if I could detect a difference in my face (I couldn’t).
By day three, I felt normal again and almost couldn’t remember that I had the procedure done.
About two weeks later I went back to the clinic for my second dose. I had already paid for the full vial, so there was no additional charge for this follow-up. It also was significantly less painful this time with none of the lightheadedness (were my muscles just warmed up to it?). I also found the recovery much easier and the soreness the next day less pronounced. Round two was barely a blip in my day and maybe a one on the pain scale.
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Botox takes a few days to take effect (approximately two to four days, typically) with the muscle fully relaxing around 10 to 14days post-procedure. As much as I wanted to see instant results, it was a waiting game. A successful procedure for me wouldn’t be about looking for signs that it was working, it was the absence of my TMJD symptoms. Could I bite into a pastel de nata without the click? Did my boyfriend notice it when we were kissing? Were my sleep yawns sounding like a robot in need of an oil change? The answer to all was no.
After the sticker shock at the price of the procedure, I was secretly hoping that maybe it wouldn’t be effective enough to get me hooked. Unfortunately for my wallet, it worked better than I could have expected and it’s safe to say that I’ll be re-booking my appointment in a few months. I’m now two months post-procedure and my jaw very rarely clicks, even when I actively try to demonstrate it to friends while talking about the experience, opening my mouth ridiculously wide to try to hear that once-familiar pop.
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Disclaimer: This is not intended to substitute as advice of a qualified healthcare professional. Always seek medical advice that is specific to your situation.