What's a Mouth Massage and Should You Be Getting One?

If you hold tension in your jaw, step right up.

Photo: Design by Jo Imperio

Facials are typically associated with topical treatments, exfoliators, extractions, peels, and, of course, massage — again, typically on the outside of the face and jaw. Buccal facials, however, are performed inside-out; it's an intra-oral massage, targeting pressure points along the cheek. And if you tend to carry tension in your jaw, it might be just the best way to upgrade your self-care routine.

In case you're confused; yes, during a buccal massage (fun fact: bucca means cheek in Latin), someone has their hands in your mouth.

If you're asking yourself, "having the dentist inside my mouth is horrible enough, why would I willingly opt for this treatment?" Well, the list of potential benefits is intriguing.

Why Get a Buccal Massage?

"The buccal facial better targets the underlying muscles of the area," explains Anna Babayan, owner of Anna Babayan Skincare and certified Buccal therapist. "It concentrates on pressure points that help to restore muscular facial tone and relieve any existing tension in the area." (In skin care, "tone" of the skin is the definition of firmness or laxity of the muscle or skin.)

The benefits of the treatment range from improved circulation, smoother facial lines, and increased collagen production, to tension release in the jaw for clenchers, teeth grinders, and most significantly, sufferers from temporomandibular disorders (TMD), says Babayan. TMD (people often mistakenly use the incorrect label "TMJ") is the umbrella term used for disorders affecting a person's jaw, explains Angelique Freking D.D.S., dental director of Park Slope Dentistry in Brooklyn, New York. TMD can be caused by issues with the joint itself, extrinsic causes from trauma, or with muscles associated with the joint, says Freking.

For TMD sufferers, "relaxation and subsequent pain-tension relief of the targeted muscles are the main benefits of this type of massage," adds Freking. "Massage of the temporalis, masseter, and lateral pterygoid muscles [all muscles that help control the jaw] can reduce tension and provide pain relief for patients experiencing muscle pain. For patients experiencing limited opening of their mouth during an acute TMD flare-up, massage can help release the muscles and allow for full opening." Even if you don't suffer from TMD, if you hold tension in your neck and head, you'll find relief from a buccal massage (much like any other massage), says Freking. (See: The Mind and Body Benefits of Getting a Massage)

By massaging the inner cheek muscles, you can also relax, elongate, and release tension in those tissues, which provides a more lifted and plump look for the face, says Babayan. "Buccal massage is also thought to increase the production of collagen [the main structural protein in the body's various connective tissues], and define the contour of the jaw and cheekbones," she says. How, exactly? Well, "if your muscles are in a contracted state (a 'knot,' aka myofascial trigger point), gently massaging the muscle out of a contracted state may make a slight visible difference as the trigger point releases and the muscle elongates," says Freking. As for the aesthetic skin benefits, one study published in PLOS One shows that facial massage does indeed have promising benefits for anti-aging effects on the skin. (

After a Buccal facial, the physical relaxation of the facial muscles may leave you with more relaxed facial expressions, glowing skin, and plump cheeks, says Babayan. This is all thanks to increased blood flow and an effect of lymphatic massage; if you have a blockage in your lymphatic system, gentle massage can increase flow, which results in a plumping effect, explains Freking. (Here's more about lymphatic drainage massage, and how to DIY.)

Additionally, some people use Buccal facials as an alternative for cosmetic injectables, says Babayan. "The effects of a buccal massage are temporary; however, if done on a regular basis, it can be an excellent non-invasive, preventative method," she says.

What Is Getting a Buccal Massage Like?

But how exactly does someone massage your mouth? "The entire treatment is done while the client is lying on their back, facing up as you would for a traditional facial," explains Babayan. "At Anna Babayan Skincare, our customized Buccal facial treatment is 120 minutes long — 20 minutes of buccal massage treatment, and then the rest of the time is a traditional facial with a full face massage, customized to the client's skin type and needs." (

During the Buccal massage portion, the professional will insert a gloved finger, usually the thumb or index finger, into the mouth; they'll knead inside the mouth, along the entirety of the cheek, while the rest of their fingers massage from the outside of the mouth. They don't just massage the cheek, but also the nasal and lip muscles as well.

If hearing "nasal" and "massage" in the same sentence makes you uncomfortable, well that's likely because it isn't technically supposed to be comfortable (sorry!). You can expect some tenderness during the treatment due to the release of certain pressure points and kneading in areas that don't generally receive regular touch or stimulation, says Babayan. Post-treatment, many clients describe feeling "a complete meditative experience." Just think of a body massage and how a therapist may reach a knot, which they work out with pressure. At the time, it likely borders on painful, but after your treatment, you forget all about it as your body is entirely relaxed. (Also read: The Scientific Benefits of Human Touch)

Word of caution: You may develop a small headache afterward because the stimulation increases blood flow to your face and head, says Freking. Otherwise, there are no other serious risks associated with the treatment, she says.

Though results can be achieved after just one session and definitely vary from client to client, for the ultimate result, it's recommended that someone receive eight to 10 procedures (with a maximum of 12) at a rate of once per week for women and twice per week for men, says Babayan. "Men have stronger muscles and stronger pull to their muscles. It actually requires more sessions to relax and release those muscles," explains Babayan. "It's the same case with Botox, men need more botox, more often and they wear it out faster because their muscle tends to be stronger and has a stronger power of contraction." (

You can find the treatment at a spa, med spa, or even doctor's and dentist offices, but buccal is still limited to predominately metropolitan areas, including hubs like New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Dallas, Paris, London, says Babayan — basically where the celebs and fashion is, buccal is.

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