The tension headaches started in 2016. Early on in the year, I went to the dentist for a routine cleaning and she pointed out that I was grinding my teeth, likely in my sleep, so a mouth guard was fashioned and I was sent merrily on my way. Nearly two years later, my headaches had progressed to nearly daily occurrences — and they were making me miserable. My grinding had not stopped, nor had I taken to my mouth guard. In fact I had lost it. Oops. In desperation for some relief from my subconscious clenching-induced hell, I took to the internet for alternative solutions and kept on arriving at the same treatment: Botox.
In my mind, those who prayed to the gods of botulinum toxin were opting to inject their faces with it for anti-aging purposes, something I hadn’t even considered at 26. But, as it happens, the muscle-freezing miracle known to the world over as Botox is actually a common treatment for teeth grinding, including for some notable celebs like Bethenny Frankel. So, in the name of some sweet relief, I mosied on up to the offices of Central Park Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery to see what Dr. Lloyd Klausner could do for my tension-ravaged head.
First thing’s first: Dr. Klausner is nothing but a perfectionist. Upon arrival, scans were taken of my face to determine whether my grinding was caused by an issue with the temporomandibular joints (TMJ for short) or if the cause was from a neurological disturbance. Upon looking at my face X-ray, Dr. Klausner determined that my TMJ joints were physiologically fine, so my ailment was likely caused by a number of factors that range from hormonal disorders, sleep disturbances or even certain medications. And because my grinding primarily occurred in my sleep (I would often wake up with pain in my cheeks and forehead that would extend down to my neck and shoulders as the day progressed) we determined that in order to get to the root cause, I’d need to enroll in a sleep study or see a neurologist.
But, in the meantime, he offered some relief in the form of the solution I had been reading about. As Dr. Klausner explained to me, Botox is often a great treatment for grinding and clenching in the jaw muscles (masseter and temporalis) because it reduces the bite force by weakening muscles in the jaw and temple. As a result, I’d grind with less force and hopefully get fewer headaches — an easy trade off for a quick pinch of a needle, even for a woman who has anxiety about getting her annual flu shot.
A few key notes here: Dr. Klausner started with a small trial dose in my jaw and said that we would follow up in a few weeks once the Botox had kicked in to see if I needed more. This is crucial, because, first, it takes a few days for the muscle-freezing magic of Botox to take effect, but, second, because it is better to start with too little and work your way to a higher dose than to go in way too strong, too fast. We started with an injection in my jaw and I was to return two weeks later.
That time came and went, and while my headaches were slightly reduced, I could tell that I was still grinding. So at my follow-up we determined that because my temple muscles were firing when I would clench, we’d add a dose there as well as a top up in my jaw. This was the golden ticket.
After a month, my headaches were drastically reduced and I was told I could happily count on that for the next few months until the injections wore off. But because Dr. Klausner was thorough he also suggested that I get a custom fabricated mouthpiece for my upper arch to be worn while I sleep (you can also get them for the lower arch during the day), to prevent damage to your teeth. Here’s the thing: unaddressed grinding can cause long-term damage to your teeth, including tooth fracture and subsequent tooth loss. In other words, the exact manifestation of my recurring anxiety dreams. You bet I was getting another mouth guard.
Now, nearly two months in, I can confidently say my grinding has ground to a near halt — it only really occurs if I’m deeply stressed out. But on the whole, it’s become more manageable and I seldom get tension-induced migraines. And the mouth guard? The fact that it’s smaller and well-made means that I actually wear it. You’d be surprised what a difference that makes.
And lastly — perhaps most shockingly because I don’t have a particularly strong jawline unlike celeb notables such as Ms. Frankel — my face shape changed ever so slightly. My clenching and grinding had caused a fair bit of swelling in my face over time that I hadn’t really noticed until it went away. Turns out, this is a secondary benefit of jaw Botox. In fact, as Dr. Klausner explains, jawline slimming can happen when injections are made specifically in the masseter muscles, to create a slimmer, more angular face and improved appearance.
All in all, the experience was more than worth it. Who knew a couple of needle pokes would drastically improve my quality of life?
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