4 Common Reasons for Chattering Teeth – and What to do About It

4 Common Reasons for Chattering Teeth – and What to do About It

Dec 22, 2015

You’re standing at a bus stop in the rain, sledding down a snow-covered hill, or simply walking outside on a brisk winter day, and your teeth begin to clack together. Nearly everyone knows the feeling of chattering teeth when they get cold. Shivering and teeth chattering is a normal bodily response to help raise your temperature when needed. However, if you find your teeth clinking together even when you aren’t chilly, this could be a sign of another health problem. Furthermore, excessive chattering for any reason could be damaging your enamel and potentially putting you at risk for a host of other oral health issues, from decay to gum disease. Fortunately, Dr. Craig Armstrong and our team are here to help answer all of your dental questions and see to it that you maintain a beautiful smile. In the following blog, we describe five common reasons for chattering teeth and explain what you can do about this condition.

1. Cold Weather

Before we go over other reasons for this symptom, it’s important you understand why your teeth do and should chatter in chilly weather. In his video for Mental Floss magazine, Craig Benzine explains that, “when your skin gets colder than expected, your body takes note,” triggering a response in the “hypothalamus in the brain, which is what controls body temperature.” The hypothalamus, he notes, “contains something known as the shivering center…that shaking you experience happens because the body’s muscles are contracting and relaxing rapidly…those muscles include your face muscles, and when your face muscles begin to shiver…teeth chattering can be a side effect of that.”

So, it’s clear that your body shivers when cold, but why? What’s the purpose of chattering? Science ABC explains: “when your body’s internal temperature begins to fall below the preferred range, the body needs to create extra warmth. The skeletal muscles – from your shins and thighs to your shoulders, hands, and cheeks – will begin to gently (or violently) shake and shiver, which expends energy and thereby releases heat.” So, this involuntary movement is your body’s way of trying to keep you as toasty as possible, even in the cold.

2. Emotional Stress, Anxiety, and Panic

With today’s hectic lifestyles, stress happens to nearly everyone at one time or another. In addition, more severe anxiety or panic may occur occasionally during particularly difficult circumstances. When your body reaches a high stress level, a number of physical effects can happen. This includes heart pounding, raised blood pressure, headache, nausea, and teeth chattering.

You’ve probably experienced a shaky feeling when you are nervous about a big presentation or anxious for a first date. This movement, like shivering, can cause your teeth to hit up against each other and chatter. If your teeth are consistently chattering when you aren’t cold, this symptom could be due to stress. Taking deep breaths, going for walks, and talking to a friend about your worries can help tremendously. If you’re experiencing anxiety on a regular basis, you may also consider reorganizing your life and schedule to avoid feeling this way and emphasizing activities that help you stay calm.

3. Teeth Grinding

According to the Academy of General Dentistry, “one in three people suffer from bruxism,” or teeth grinding. Although this condition is more associated with clenching, it can cause a chatter-like spasm as well. In addition to being uncomfortable, clenching and grinding can do serious damage to your teeth over time. Dr. Armstrong and our team can help treat your bruxism so you don’t have to deal with constantly chattering teeth. If you’re suffering from symptoms of teeth grinding, we strongly recommend coming in for an appointment as soon as possible because:

  • A comprehensive examination is needed in order to evaluate the best course of treatment for your clenching and grinding. As with most things, prevention is the key to preserving a healthy smile.
  • If left untreated, grinding or wearing down your teeth may result in a smile that prematurely ages you.
  • Bruxism can cause your teeth to crack or break, leaving you vulnerable to other oral health issues, such as infection.
  • Addressing teeth grinding early often eliminates the need for more intensive cosmetic treatment in the future.
  • Preventing the damage associated with clenching and grinding can often be accomplished simply by wearing a mouth guard, which Dr. Armstrong and our team can custom make to fit your mouth.

For these reasons and many more, it is imperative that you schedule a consultation if you notice your teeth chattering constantly or come across any other signs of bruxism. We can help you protect your smile.

4. Neurological Disorders

Teeth chattering when you aren’t cold or anxious is sometimes an early symptom of Parkinson’s disease. It is often accompanied by other tremors, such as in the hands. In addition, some people with a tic disorder such as Tourette’s Syndrome may experience clicking or chomping of the teeth together or involuntary jaw movements. Furthermore, according to New York Times Science columnist, C. Claiborne Ray, chattering can also result from a condition called oromandibular dystonia, “in which the neurological mechanism that makes muscles relax when they are not in use does not function properly. The contractions [involved in this condition] can interfere with chewing and swallowing.” There are a wide variety of neurological factors and conditions that can lead to chattering, so you should take this symptom seriously. If Dr. Armstrong does not determine a dental cause for your chattering, we will refer you to a specialist who can help you.

5. Side Effects of Medications

A number of medications can cause trembling or tremor, which may result in teeth chattering. These include medications for cancer, asthma, blood pressure, and many others. In addition, antidepressant medications have been demonstrated to cause clenching and grinding in many patients, which can, in turn, lead to chattering. Furthermore, withdrawal from drugs like alcohol or nicotine may cause trembling.

If you’re on a medication and notice your teeth chattering, we recommend speaking with your physician about this side effect. When Dr. Armstrong evaluates your teeth, we will also ask you about your prescriptions to help ascertain whether or not these could be a factor in your chattering. If side effects are the cause of your condition, do not stop taking your medication without your physician’s approval. If you’re trying to quit smoking or drinking and notice trembling or other side effects, don’t give up. Your physician can help you find ways to cope with the initial withdrawal.

Our Houston Dental Team Can Help

Regardless of the cause, teeth chattering when you aren’t cold is a symptom you should address with your dentist or physician. Ongoing chattering can lead to tooth damage and dental problems, plus it can be a sign of more serious physical disorders. In some cases, your physician will want to rule out certain diseases or conditions, or may modify any medications you’re taking. If you are experiencing clenching, grinding, or chattering, Dr. Armstrong and our team can assist you! We will help you find the cause of your condition and remedy it appropriately. Contact our Houston, TX practice today to schedule an appointment.