Everyone thinks they knows what botox is all about: plastic surgery, puffy, inflated lips, unmoving cheeks– the Hollywood look. This may be true to an extent, but it’s not particularly accurate. Botox can be used in a number of practical applications, even in dentistry. Before we get to those applications it’s important to understand what Botox is and what it does.
Botox is the commercial term for botulinum toxin, a naturally occurring neurotoxin produced by the bacterium clostridium botulinum. Neurotoxins are very potent and can have potentially destructive impacts on nerve function snake venom is an good, and terrifying, example of a neurotoxin). The young and elderly are particularly susceptible to their impacts.
When used well, however, neurotoxins can also have positive, therapeutic effects in humans. Botox, of course, is a great example. The primary trait of Botox is its ability to cause muscle paralysis, which is why it has come to enjoy prevalent use in medicine, cosmetics and research.
Specifically, Botox is used to treat disorders characterized by hyperactive muscles. Put simply, Botox works by weakening or relaxing an underlying muscle that pulls too strongly in one way or another. We often think of muscles in the upper third of the face when we think of Botox being used. Other examples include reducing the activity of clenching muscles in the vocal cords, jaw, urinary tract, bladder, chin, lip and cheeks.
Dental Applications – Clenching and Bruxing
It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that Botox is used commonly in dentistry for a range of purposes. For example, many of us have a clenching or bruxing habit, which means that we grind our teeth while asleep or awake. Plenty of factors lead to this habit – medication side effects, stress and anxiety, sleep disorders, and problems with missing or crooked teeth – all of which lead back to hyperactivity in the muscles that operate the jaw. Research shows that injecting Botox into these muscles can help reduce clenching. With that said, Botox would have to be injected semi-regularly (every three to six months) to maintain results.
The Return of the Gummy Smile
We also use Botox to treat the so called “gummy smile” problem, which causes some people to show larger than normal amounts of gum tissue when they smile. I wrote about the gummy smile in another Dr. Pasha Cosmetic Insights article. There are many causes for this condition, and as a result many treatment options– Botox is among them.
In the article I explain that one of the causes of the gummy smile is a short, or hyperactive, lip. Normal lip mobility in a smile is around 6-8 mm. When you smile, or pronounce the letter “E” in an exaggerated way, your lip will move upwards within a range of 6-8 mm. In some people, this number exceeds 8 mm and can be up to 10 mm or even more. This causes too much of the gum tissue to be shown.
Injecting a small amount of Botox into the lip’s elevating muscles (responsible for smile movement) reduces their activity, thus limiting the amount of gum tissue revealed in the smile.
Planning and Outcomes
This article attempts to simplify Botox injections for information purposes, but please remember that this type of treatment should be properly planned and diagnosed by a cosmetic dentist. Botox treatments can be useful in the instances described above, but given its nature as a neurotoxin, Botox can reduce the activity of a lip such that it has an aging effect on the smile.
It’s important to be cautious and thoughtful when considering any cosmetic dentistry procedure. My practice supports a range of cosmetic dentistry procedures including Botox injections. I would be happy to speak to you about your options.