Most bulimia sufferers believe their secret is safe, and their families and friends don't know what happens behind the closed bathroom door. Even though someone may be skilled at the art of hiding the eating disorder, a condition known as bulimia jaw can be a dead giveaway. According to the Bulimia Nervosa Resource Guide, signs that a loved one is practicing the binge-and-purge process include swelling of the face and jawline and skin discoloration on the finger joints.
As the Mayo Clinic points out, Bulimia nervosa is a serious eating disorder that typically takes the form of binge-eating followed by dangerous methods to avoid weight gain. This most commonly means purging through forced vomiting, but can also include excessive exercising or fasting. Studies from the National Eating Disorders Association show between 1.1 percent and 4.6 percent of women and girls are likely to develop bulimia in their lives, while 0.1 percent to 0.5 percent of men and boys could be victims. Statistics are not available for the number of sufferers who develop bulimia jaw.
Reasons for Jaw Symptoms
Purging frequently can cause swelling of the parotid glands, which are the largest of our salivary glands. These are located on the side of the cheeks just in front of the ears, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. These glands can become inflamed for several reasons, including:
- The presence of salivary stones
- Poor oral hygiene
- Viral infections such as mumps
- Smoking and other serious illnesses
In the case of bulimia sufferers, bacterial infection or damage to the gland tissue caused by stomach acid while purging is the most likely reason for bulimia jaw.
Diagnosing the Condition
Parotitis can be aggravated by poor oral hygiene and is often misdiagnosed as TMJ, trigeminal neuralgia or atypical facial pain, according to the Osborne Head and Neck Institute. Most people who suffer from swelling of the jaw believe it is a dental issue, and their first step in identifying the cause is a visit to their oral health care practitioner.
The dentist will check for any signs and symptoms of oral health problems. If those are missing or insufficient to form a conclusive diagnosis, they will recommend the patient see a primary care or family physician instead. For a doctor to reach a conclusive diagnosis about the cause of parotitis, it's essential to determine whether other signs of an eating disorder exist. These include:
- Emotional and behavioral signs, such as an obsession with food.
- Physical signs, like calluses on the back of hands from inducing vomiting, discoloration of teeth, halitosis or excessive use of mouthwash.
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating.
- Yellow color of the skin.
It may take several consultations before the physician diagnoses bulimia as the cause of the jaw problems because most sufferers are very secretive about their condition.
Successfully treating parotitis caused by bulimia requires patients to address the eating disorder. Once purging stops, the swollen jaw might reduce over time to normal size. If infection or tissue damage exists, however, the patient may need antibiotics to help speed up recovery. The doctor may also recommend improved oral hygiene through the use of antibacterial products, which fight bacteria for a healthier mouth. This will help to restore the mouth's naturally defensive bacteria and keep the bulimia jaw from becoming worse.
If you suspect a loved one is suffering from bulimia jaw, avoid asking them outright if they are bulimic. Recommend that they see a doctor for the swelling in their glands, and once the physician identifies the cause you can be there to support them.