People Are Getting Botox ... From Their Dentist?

by Susie b Cross
Guido Mieth/Getty

I can embrace my crow’s feet and laugh lines, and I even like that divot between my eyebrows that tells the world that I have spent a lot of time concentrating and considering existential questions. What I cannot abide by are the vertical lines that, in my 54 years, have crept from my upper lip towards my nostrils. I’ve eschewed drinking straws, slathered on shea butter concoctions, and tried upper-lip exercises. None of it worked, even a smidge, so I went the Botox route.

I don’t regret the experiment, and honestly I’ll probably give injectables another shot in the next half-century. But, in those days, I didn’t go back to get a second treatment—mostly because (1) I never, ever realized that there are over 30 jillion nerves where flesh-colored philtrum skin meets the plump pink skin of the upper lip. For the time being, I would rather pluck my eyeball out and stomp it than re-endure a needle poking at my face like that; and (2) traumatizing that precise part of my face made it impossible for me to whistle. (I had no idea, back then, that whistling was a priority in my life.)

I have plenty of contemporaries, however, who are courageous enough to dip their toes in the Botox pond. Their journey differs from mine in a key respect, though: my first encounter with Botox took place at a med spa; theirs take place in a dentist’s chair.

I couldn’t, at first, get my mind around the notion that anyone would actually choose to have a probably-painful-but-ultimately-rejuvenating-aesthetic-experience at the dentist—the same office where people are shamed for sub-par flossing or where teeth are routinely pried from unyielding jaw bones.

Yet, though I had never heard of it until lately (I’m not the heppest cat in town), dental Botox is nothing new. This fact, combined with medical experts’ intimate understanding of facial anatomy, might be the biggest argument in their favor.

Botox has been effectively used to treat lockjaw and teeth grinding (and the often accompanying headaches). Very promisingly, Botox also seems to have an effect on temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ). According to a 2012 clinical trial, at least one subject experienced a significant decrease of TMJ-related pain and an increased ability to open his mouth. Additionally, seventy percent of the patients studied felt decreased muscle tenderness.

Botox can relieve the discomfort patients feel when they adjust to new dentures as well. It also has its place in the field of orthodontics as “an excellent auxiliary treatment when the patient’s clinical record indicates orthodontic relapse.” Add these boons together, and the dental community has a formidable weapon in their collective arsenal.

It is easier and easier, the more I read, to accept that a dentist would be the perfect candidate to provide perioral Botox. I even understand why a person might brave the dentist’s cavity-drilling lair if it meant getting primo treatment from a primo professional.

What I definitely, completely, and indubitably cannot understand is the Botox Home Party trend. And, yes, it is exactly what it sounds like. Too much adequate wine, the compulsory charcuterie, chatty banter, and peer pressure to paralyze your facial muscles in the comfort of an acquaintance’s living room.

I am 175% suspicious of any medical professional who uses the same business model as Mary Kay or Pampered Chef. While I don’t mind feeling obligated to buy a mega whisk or a tube of Satin Hands—I just don’t want to feel obligated to let a Pinot Grigio-ed dentist jab me with a syringe full of botulism and traces of foie gras.

Botox comes with a grocery list of potential risks (risks that people like me, with the puckered lip lines of a 102-year-old Marlboro smoker, are willing to take), ranging from muscle weakness to tinnitus. But I sometimes think people forget about potential acute reactions to the serum as well, like hives and anaphylaxis.

I might be able to deal with any immediate reaction, if I were in a safe place with easy access to medical supplies and personnel. I suspect, on the other hand, if I were sitting on a leather sectional in somebody’s lady cave, I might not be so relaxed if I started to sprout itchy pustules.

Expecting a room full of half-friends to doctor me seems like a real gamble. I imagine a worst case scenario: me, struggling to breathe, a cadre of tipsy women ignoring the professional in the room and frantically digging in their purses for a stray Benadryl or an essential oil tincture.

So, in essence, the next time I try to eradicate these lip lines, I’m going to seriously consider my dentist—who I already trusted enough to let whittle down my canine and yank out an inflamed nerve. But, I don’t think I’m ever going to invite him to my marginally clean home to de-flaw-ify the mouths of my girlfriends. I don’t think he’d come anyway. Then again, I’ve never asked.