How does bulimia affect the jaw?

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Bulimia nervosa (BN) is an eating disorder that affects many parts of the body, including the jaw. BN involves episodes of purging, often as self-induced vomiting, which puts stress on the jaw and can cause facial pain. (1) Over time, purging can change the alignment of the jaw joints leading to long-term effects like headaches, bite changes, shoulder pain, and neck discomfort.

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Short term effects of bulimia on the jaw

A person with bulimia nervosa engages in purging episodes, most commonly by self-induced vomiting. After purging, an individual with BN may experience jaw and facial pain due to inflamed parotid glands. The parotid glands are the largest salivary glands located in front of the ears. The glands can get irritated by acids in vomit, causing them to swell. When the glands enlarge, it can cause nerve pain in the jaw muscles and inflammation in the face. (2)

Long term effects of bulimia on the jaw

Long-term binging and purging can cause an individual's jaw joints to misalign, leading to a variety of effects such as:

  • Bite changes 
  • Physical face changes 
  • Headaches
  • Should and neck discomfort

Bulimia nervosa can also have long-term effects on the teeth. Frequent purging exposes the teeth to acid that can wear down the enamel, leading to tooth decay and cavities. With time, a person with BN may also notice yellowing of the teeth which happens when the enamel wears off. The teeth can also become more brittle and may lead to breakage or chips. (4)

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Treating symptoms of the jaw and teeth of someone with bulimia

For someone experiencing the effects of BN on the jaw, a dentist can address some of the discomforts and help an individual prevent further pain. Typically, treatment will start with an x-ray, or MRI scan to understand if the jaw is misaligned and to what degree. A dentist may also check a person's range of motion when opening and closing the mouth. 

In the early stages of jaw and mouth discomfort, a dentist may suggest at-home treatments such as applying ice packs and jaw stretching exercises. Dentists may also encourage individuals to eat soft foods and take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen, to reduce swelling and mild discomfort. An individual may have to undergo a corrective dental procedure in more severe cases, such as bridges or braces, to help realign the jaw. There is also the option of surgery if an individual is in extreme pain. (3)

In addition to treating the jaw, many individuals with BN also seek dental treatment for the teeth. One option for keeping the teeth safe after purging is to rinse the mouth with baking soda and water to neutralize acids that can harm the teeth. When a person is experiencing tooth sensitivity or decay, they may have to visit a dentist to have a cavity filled. A person may need a root canal to remove any infections from an untreated cavity or extreme tooth decay in more severe cases. 

Dentists can treat the effects of BN on the jaw, but to effectively treat jaw and teeth complications, doctors recommend an individual treat their underlying eating disorder. It can be challenging to seek help for an eating disorder, but finding a respectable treatment center such as Within Health is a great first step to healing. 

Within Health offers ongoing support for people living with an eating disorder to receive clinically superior care at home. The personalized programs offered by Within use the latest technology to provide real-time interactive experiences accessible to everyone no matter their shape, size, ethnicity, gender expression, sexuality, or background. Contact our admissions team today to learn more about the Within Health approach to helping individuals heal from bulimia nervosa.

Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

Resources

  1. NYC Smile Design. (n.d.). Dangers of eating disorders. NYC Smile Design. Retrieved February 15, 2022, from https://www.nycsmiledesign.com/dental-erosion-from-eating-disorders
  2. Tanenbaum, D. (2021, October 20). Facial pain - is it bruxism or is it bulimia? Donald R. Tanenbaum, DDS MPH. Retrieved February 15, 2022, from https://tanenbaumtmj.com/2019/06/04/is-it-bulimia-or-is-it-bruxism/
  3. Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) disorders: Symptoms, treatment & prevention. Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved February 15, 2022, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15066-temporomandibular-disorders-tmd-overview
  4. Watson, S. (2016, December 17). Bulimia's effect on teeth. Healthline. Retrieved February 15, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/health/bulimia-teeth#damage-to-teeth-and-mouth

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