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Toxin for tooth-grinding? You bet!

29th May 2024

I grind my teeth – or rather, I clench them – particularly at night. It’s not life-threatening: up to 10% of us do this, but it sets up pain and stiffness in my neck and shoulders and because it’s a subconscious habit, it’s one I’ve found impossible to break. That’s why toxin injections to reduce the clenching are one of my favourite tweakments.

What’s the problem?

Ounce for ounce, the jaw muscles – the masseters – are the strongest in our bodies, and the force they can exert when we clench or grind sets up all sort of problems, from shoulder pain to headaches to a spasmed neck, along with wearing down your teeth. I’ve worn some sort of bite-plate (or ‘occlusal splint’) at night for the past 25 years, ever since an osteopath pointed out that all his efforts to unlock my neck and shoulders were never going to last until I stopped clamping my jaws together all night every night and undoing all his good work. These splints help up to a point, though I find every time I wake up in the night, my teeth are locked onto that splint, and I’ve taken to regular treatments of muscle-relaxing toxin to make the clenching less of a problem.

 

How do toxin injections help reduce tooth grinding?

In the same way that toxin works to reduce frown lines by blocking the nerve signals that are telling the forehead muscles to frown, the drug stops those masseter muscles from being able to contract with their usual force, bringing immense relief from the effects of the grinding and clenching.

 

What does masseter toxin feel like?

Toxin is injected with a very fine needle so it hardly hurts – except where my masseter muscles are really solid. Then there’s an audible crunch (well, I can hear it inside my head) as the needle dives through the super-tight muscle which, yes, makes me wince but it’s worth it. Just having the needle stuck into the tight muscle gives a good deal of immediate relief (just like you’d get if you had an acupuncture needle plunged into the same spot) and that tides me over until the effects of the toxin kick in (from four days afterwards).

How long does masseter toxin last?

Three to four months. Even though I have this done regularly, my masseters manage to regain their strength as the weeks roll by. “It’s a big muscle,” says Dr Sophie Shotter, who treats my masseters regularly, “and it is extraordinarily strong.”

 

Doesn’t the treatment make your jaw more narrow?

You’d think that if you had this treatment regularly, the weakened muscles would atrophy, so you’d gradually whittle down the bulk of your jaw, and this can be done, but it takes a lot of product.

“It’s a high impact treatment,” says Dr Shotter, “and it’s done differently in different parts of the world. Over here [in the UK], most of my patients are having it done for clenching, grinding, and to manage the bulky jaw muscles that they develop as a result. But in the far East – Korea, China – it’s one of the most popular treatments but people are having it not because they clench and grind, but because they want to slim the lower face, to have a more heart-shaped appearance.”

Do you need greater quantities for that? “You often do,” says Dr Shotter, “and it’s unusual I will do it for that reason. That can be an added benefit for people who have overdeveloped masseter muscles like you and I both have.”

Does it really work?

Yes. It’s a clinically proven treatment and is widely available, though it’s still an off-label use of toxin. I also still wear some type of bite plate or splint, every night. I’ve only got the one set of teeth and I need them to last me a few more years.

Masseter toxin costs from £500

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