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Chattering Teeth: What's Behind It?

On a chilly day, you might notice an interesting phenomenon — your teeth chatter together, seemingly without your doing anything to control them. Teeth chatter because of involuntary movements in your jaw. Usually, it's not a big deal. It just means you're cold and that it's time to warm up by going indoors or wrapping up in a blanket.

But occasionally, chattering teeth can be a cause for concern. Learn more about the reasons your teeth might chatter and what you can do to treat or prevent it.

Why Do Your Teeth ChatteR?

The most common reason your teeth chatter is because you are cold. When your body gets the sense that its internal temperature might drop below 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius), it starts to shiver, during which the muscles rapidly relax and contract, as National Institutes of Health explains it. When shivering occurs in the jaw muscles, it moves the jaw up and down, causing clicking teeth.

In some cases, your teeth might chatter and you might shiver not because you're cold, but because your body is trying to fight off an infection. In that case, you might notice a fever and an increase in body temperature, along with the chattering and shivering.

There are also cases when chattering teeth have nothing to do with the cold. For example, people who have bruxism might seem to chatter their teeth in their sleep.

Teeth chattering can also be associated with oromandibular dystonia, a condition that causes "forceful contractions" in the jaw or face muscles, according to the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation. Constant muscle movements in the jaw cause the teeth to clatter together. Oromandibular dystonia can occur on its own or it can be symptom of another condition, such as Parkinson's disease or Wilson's disease. In some instances, the condition develops as a reaction to certain medications.

When Should You Worry About Teeth Chattering?

While you usually don't need to worry too much about teeth chattering that occurs as a result of you being cold, when your teeth chatter because of dystonia, or when you grind and clench your teeth on a regular basis, there is usually cause for concern. Bruxism can affect your teeth in a few ways. It can wear down the enamel on your teeth and put you at an increased risk for tooth decay and sensitivity, for example. Oromandibular dystonia can make it difficult for you to swallow, chew or speak, meaning it can really interfere with daily life.

What to Do About Teeth Chattering

The first step to figuring out what you can do about chattering teeth is figuring out the cause. Your dentist or doctor can diagnose either bruxism or dystonia, if either one is behind the issue. If you do have bruxism, your dentist might recommend wearing a mouth guard at night or performing bruxism exercises to reduce tension in the jaw. Brushing with a toothpaste such as Colgate Enamel Health Sensitivity Relief can help to strengthen tooth enamel and replenishes natural calcium and help protect your teeth against tooth sensitivity, with continued use.

Usually, treatment for dystonia is customized for each patient, as the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation notes. A variety of oral medicines, sensory tricks and exercises, and even Botox injections can help to ease symptoms. If your dentist or doctor determines that dystonia is behind your chattering, they will work with you to develop an appropriate treatment.

Chattering teeth can be little more than nuisance and a sign that you're cold. But if you suspect there's something else going on, it's always a good idea to schedule a check-up with a medical professional.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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