Surge in jaw relaxing treatments attributed to cost-of-living stress

Heightened stress due to the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis has caused a surge in people needing botulinum toxin, but not for the usual frown-induced wrinkles the treatment is famous for. Increased incidences of a disorder that can lead to chronic pain, inability to chew and, in some cases, limiting mouth opening, have seen people desperately turning to the injections to relax their overworked jaw muscles.

Temporomandibular disorder (TMD), also known as temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ disorder), affects the jaw joint and surrounding muscles, causing issues including headaches, jaw pain and clicking, limited chewing function, and limited mouth opening. One cause of TMD is teeth-grinding (bruxism) due to stress, which is affecting increasing numbers of people during the cost-of-living crisis and post-pandemic world. Higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol were found in people suffering from TMD.

Botulinum toxin injections can help relax the muscles around the jaw, relieving the debilitating symptoms of TMD, and providing much-needed relief for the sufferer. However, the lack of regulations in the UK regarding who can administer these and other non-surgical treatments is leaving people open to unscrupulous practitioners who may not have the experience or training to administer the toxin safely or deal with potential complications.

An app has been developed by NHS doctors Dr Sieuming Ng and Dr Subha Punj to help reduce patient stress and find qualified practitioners. The Safe Aesthetic Practitioner (SafeAP) is a marketplace designed to ensure that procedures are delivered by qualified healthcare professionals in a safe environment.

“With the cost-of-living crisis and post-pandemic stresses on people, we wanted to remove the additional anxiety of finding and booking treatments with safe and appropriately qualified practitioners," says Dr Ng. "The lack of regulation around administering injectables is potentially catastrophic. We are seeing increasing numbers of highly stressed people seeking respite from debilitating TMD symptoms, and they need the process to be as straightforward as possible.”

Authors of The Influence of SARS-CoV-2 Pandemic on TMJ Disorders, OSAS and BMI found a prevalence of TMD in a cohort of 208 participants from different private dental practices. Another study, The Prevalence and Predicting Factors of Temporomandibular Disorders in COVID-19 Infection: A Cross-Sectional Study, found a 41.9% prevalence of TMD in Covid-positive participants.

SafeAP offers qualified practitioners business management tools, including a platform to outline their qualifications, while providing a portal for patients to connect with registered professionals.

“We are definitely seeing the rise in people seeking botulinum toxin treatment for jaw pain from grinding," concludes Dr Sieuming. "While perceived to be a ‘cosmetic’ treatment, it is still ultimately a prescription medication used not just in aesthetics but also functional cases such as for TMD or even facial paralysis, yet there is complacency around who wields the needle. Problems such as allergic reactions or other side effects can arise even in the best of hands, so it is important that the public seek qualified clinicians who can deal with any possible complications. One’s health should never be a gamble.”