Bulimia Jaw Pain and Swelling

You’ve probably seen photos of the so-called “bulimia jaw.” Before-and-after snaps can be striking, particularly if they show people with cheeks puffed up by repeated vomiting. 

Repeated vomiting irritates salivary glands, leading to swelling and pain. Stop purging early, and the problem fades quickly. But the longer you continue with frequent purging, the worse the issue gets.

Patient in doctor's office about mouth/jaw
TABLE OF CONTENTS | Cause | Affect on Bite | Before and After | Treatment

Some people need surgery to find relief from these medical complications.

Your jaw pain can worsen if you have an underlying health issue, such as temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ). You may need treatment for these side effects and therapy for your eating disorder

Why Does Bulimia Cause Jaw Pain?

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by episodes of binge eating and purging (e.g., self-induced vomiting). For many with this serious eating disorder, vomiting is the preferred purge method for weight loss. This habit directly contributes to bulimia jaw pain. 

Overworked Glands Hurt 

Each time you vomit, your body asks your parotid glands to produce excessive amounts of saliva. This fluid protects your mouth and throat from stomach acids. Keep vomiting often, and the glands swell due to overwork and overstimulation. They can push on nerves and cause pain.

Most people with bulimia nervosa experience gland swelling within two to six days of vomiting. [1] The human body is good at healing, but only to a certain extent. If you quit early enough, the swelling fades without treatment. But the more you vomit, the more glands swell and cause pain. 

Stretched Jaw Tissues Twinge 

Some people with bulimia nervosa struggle to vomit, and they push their hands and fingers deep into their throats. They must open wide to press on trigger points; in time, their jaws can hurt. 

Your tissues aren’t meant to stretch indefinitely, and pushing them to extremes can cause minute tears and swelling. The damaged tissues can hurt. 

More than half of bulimia patients complain of facial pain, and it’s possible sore jaw tissues are to blame. [2]

Person with jaw pain

Can Bulimia Affect Your Bite?

You will not develop a tongue thrust or an underbite due to bulimia. You may stretch your tissues and puff up glands, but the bite structures of your jaw will not shift and move in response. 

Some researchers say TMJ should be considered a bulimia complication. [3] They recognize that many patients develop jaw problems due to repeated vomiting. But even TMJ doesn’t change your bite. It just makes biting painful. 

Some people with bulimia had TMJ before they started purging. Stretching their already sore jaw muscles when they induce vomiting makes this underlying problem much worse. 

How is Bulimia Jaw Treated?

For some people with bulimia, simple therapies are incredibly effective. Others require teams to help them improve. 

Baseline Care 

Once you’ve stopped your purging behaviors, your team can recommend at-home therapies such as these: [4]

  • Tart candies: Train your salivary glands to respond to the proper signals. And use the sucking motion to apply pressure and reduce swelling. 
  • Heat: Warm packs on the side of your face can reduce inflammation and ease the pain. 
  • Medications: Anti-inflammatory therapies can help tissues to return to their proper size. Over-the-counter medications can work for this.

Surgical Options 

Your team can use ultrasound technology to examine your swollen glands and remove abnormal tissues contributing to swelling. In severe cases, your doctor can also remove some of your salivary glands. 

TMJ is harder to treat, but some people find relief through therapies that repair torn tissues and allow for flexibility. 

Bulimia Jaw Before & After: How Long Will It Last?

Your doctor can monitor your pain and function. Depending on your progress, they can change therapies to help you get better quickly.

While some people have recovered from bulimia jaw quickly, it takes most people a long time to get better. [5]

Most teams use simple, at-home treatments before recommending surgery. But if you do have surgery, you’ll see results very quickly. 

Your eating disorder must be well under control, as the problem will come back as soon as you return to self-induced vomiting.

Eating Disorder Recovery for Bulimia Nervosa

The sooner you stop bingeing and purging, the better. Each time you force yourself to vomit, you worsen your jaw pain. This is in addition to all the other health issues that regular purging can cause. 

With treatment for bulimia and other eating disorders, you can regain control and learn to eat healthy meals again. Talk to your doctor about the next steps so that you can start your journey to a better life.

The best treatment for bulimia jaw will include treating underlying eating disorders and getting the medical care that you need for long-term recovery. This includes regular therapy sessions, education, nutritional counseling, and more.

Resources


  1. Collella G, Lo Giudice G, De Luca R, Troiano A, Lo Faro C, Santillo V, Tartaro G. (2021). Interventional Sialendoscopy in Parotidomegaly Related to Eating Disorders. Journal of Eating Disorders; 9(25).
  2. Souza SP, Antequer R, Aratangy EW, Siqueira SRDT, Cordas TA, Siqueira JTT. (2018). Pain and Temporomandibular Joint Disorders in Patients with Eating Disorders. Brazilian Oral Research; 32
  3. Miyaoka H, Wake H, Kino K, Amagasa T, Miyaoka Y, Taka K, Kamijima K. (1997). Temporomandibular Disorders as a Complication of Bulimia Nervosa. The Showa University Journal of Medical Sciences; 9(2):97-101.
  4. Mehler PS, Krantz MJ, Sachs KV. (2015). Treatments of Medical Complications of Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa. Journal of Eating Disorders; 3(15).
  5. Garcia Garcia B, Dean Ferrer A, Diaz Jimenez N, Alamillos Granados FJ. (2018). Bilateral Parotid Sialadenosis Associated with Long-Standing Bulimia: A Case Report and Literature Review. Journal of Maxillofacial and Oral Surgery; 17(2):117-121.

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