Teeth Chattering – The Main Causes And Solutions

You’ve probably experienced teeth chattering at some point when feeling the cold. But it’s not just the weather that produces this irritating dental rattling.

Maybe you notice it happens when feeling anxious or having a panic attack. For some it’s an unexpected symptom of a medical disorder, and for others a side effect of a medication they’re taking.

While researching for a previous article about teeth grinding at night I realized how common teeth chattering is. What I also discovered is that there isn’t much conclusive information to be found about it.

So I decided to do some detective work to shed some light for anyone who’s been puzzling over why it happens to them, and give you some ideas about managing it.

The 5 main causes

There appear to be 5 main categories of possible causes of teeth chattering:

  • Feeling cold.
  • Bruxism (teeth grinding or clenching).
  • Neurological diseases.
  • A side effect of taking or withdrawing from some medications or drugs.
  • Anxiety, stress or panic attacks.

1. Teeth chattering when you’re cold

It’s not uncommon for your teeth to start chattering when you’re feeling cold, and the explanation for this is simple. Your body has an internal thermostat that tries to keep you at a stable temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

When you’re exposed to cold and your temperature drops, the thermostat orders the body to take action, and shivering is one form of action to warm up again. Chattering teeth is simply a form of shivering. So in this circumstance there’s nothing to worry about – it’s perfectly normal.

2. Bruxism – teeth grinding in your sleep or while awake

This isn’t what most people mean when they talk about chattering teeth. But it’s still important to rule the possibility out.

Bruxism is the name given to the very common problem of grinding or clenching your teeth during the day or while asleep.

It’s not the same as the kind of rapid teeth chattering that can happen. But if you think you are actually grinding or clenching your teeth more, or doing it as well, then you might find it helpful to read this article about grinding your teeth in your sleep.

3. Neurological diseases

Without wanting to spook people who have chattering teeth due to anxiety, there are various neurological diseases which could cause it.

If the teeth chattering is caused by a neurological disease, you would usually experience it for longer periods of time and in a more sustained way. Not just for a short period of time when you are cold, anxious, stressed or having a panic attack.

Some possibilities include Oromandibular Dystonia, Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, Essential Tremor and Benign Fasciculation Syndrome.

This is something you can discuss with your doctor if you are concerned. If you have severe or constant teeth chattering, you should definitely talk to a doctor about it.

And for finding out more information about it online, the best thing to do is a search using phrases like ‘teeth chattering tremor’ or ‘jaw tremor’.

This is because in terms of neurological diseases teeth chattering falls under the category of tremors. This will lead you to more helpful discussions about possible neurological causes.

4. Medication and recreational drugs

Certain medicines and recreational drugs can bring about tremors and chattering teeth. For example some anti-depressants, cocaine and amphetamines like ecstasy can cause it.

And some medications, like Benzodiazepines and sleeping pills, are notorious for creating tremors or chattering teeth as a withdrawal symptom. This can be either when cutting down or if suddenly cutting them out.

Furthermore steroids, alcohol and caffeine can all lead to tremors. Too much caffeine can lead to it, whereas alcohol withdrawal can cause it.

5. Teeth chattering when anxious, afraid or panicking

This is the one which many people mention in forums and websites about anxiety and panic attacks. It seems that it can manifest in one of three ways:

  • Experiencing chattering teeth when feeling especially anxious. It can be mild or severe, but usually only lasts as long as a particular episode of anxiety, fear or panic.
  • Experiencing it for longer periods as a symptom of feeling anxious much of the time.
  • Having it in the period after a panic attack.

So why does this happen?

The most common explanation is that it results from tension in the body, created by the anxiety or panic attack. When the jaw is tense the teeth will chatter if they are held close together.

It could be that when feeling anxious and tense it’s difficult to relax the jaw and mouth. So when your jaw closes tighter because of the tension, the teeth start to chatter. There is also the possibility that when you first notice it you focus on it even more, and that makes it either worse or last longer.

And if experiencing a severe panic attack, it could be that the cold feeling that often comes with it causes the body to start shivering to warm up.

If fear is the trigger, then the tremor might even be caused by the surge of adrenalin that comes when the body’s ‘fight or flight’ mechanism kicks in.

How to stop teeth chattering

Talking to a doctor

Dealing with the problem will of course depend on what’s causing it. It’s a good idea to speak to a doctor to rule out some of the more serious possible causes. They can test you for any neurological disorders if they feel it’s a possibility.

A doctor can also help distinguish between teeth chattering and grinding or clenching as occurs with bruxism. Your dentist would also be able to help rule out this possibility.

They will be able to assess whether any medication or drug you are taking you could be causing it, and take appropriate action to deal with any side effects or withdrawal.

And if it’s a psychological cause such as anxiety, stress or panic attacks, they can also help you either access a talking therapy or look into medications to help control it.

Self-help

If you have a problem with teeth grinding, jaw clenching or chattering in your sleep then you have the option to use a mouth-guard. You can get kits to make them online or ask a dentist to help you.

If you do find yourself having an episode of chattering teeth when anxious, try to distract yourself from focusing on your jaw. Anything like reading, listening to music, walking or talking to someone can help shift your attention.

In terms of dealing with anxiety or panic attacks, if you are a long-term sufferer of anxiety then you have no doubt already heard the standard self-help advice. But if not, here are some suggestions for you to consider:

  • Try relaxation exercises such as yoga, deep breathing, mindfulness or meditation. You can also find lots of simple relaxation exercises here.
  • Listen to relaxing music. Have a look at my long list of great music for sleep or relaxation.
  • Make sure you eat a healthy, balanced diet.
  • Cut down on alcohol and caffeine.
  • Try to exercise regularly.
  • Talk to friends, family or support groups. You can also find many anxiety and panic forums with helpful and friendly members to share your experiences and get advice from.

And finally, two suggestions I’ve found from other people who suffer from it. Firstly, to massage your jaw to help relieve the tension. Secondly, chewing gum might help distract you from it happening and reduce any self-consciousness that comes from it.

Your thoughts

What do you think causes teeth chattering? What have you found makes it better or worse? Feel free to share you story, theories and solutions in the comments below.

62 CommentsLeave a comment

  • This is weird as I find myself chattering to tunes when I can’t tap my feet, tap a pencil, drum or snap my fingers

    • Hi Jack
      Thanks for your comment. With the risk of damaging your teeth, if you do this a lot, perhaps you’d be better off finding an alternative to satisfy your desire to tap out drum beats!
      Regards
      Ethan

  • Thank you for this very informative article. It made me realize my teeth chattering was due to a withdrawal because I abruptly stopped taking my anti-depressant medication. I’m appreciative that you took the time to write and publish this.

    • Hi Lainey
      Thanks for your comment, and I’m glad you found the article helpful. It would be nice to know if you managed to stop the chattering by reducing the meds more slowly.
      Regards
      Ethan

  • I have been chattering/tapping my teeth for years. I don’t know why. Sometimes it feels more like I need to clench my teeth to make the urge go away. It has taken its toll on my teeth. I have an upper partial and I have tapped so much that I have altered the fit of it and need to get it realigned.
    Thanks for your article, I am going to look into some of the things that you brought up. I never thought about it being tremors. But I have also had pain in my legs from a need to flex my muscles, so at night I ache. After reading this I will talk to my dr to see if this is some how related. Thanks!

    • Hi there
      Thanks for your comment, and I’m glad you found the article useful. Hopefully your doctor will be able to check what might be causing it and suggest something to help.
      Regards
      Ethan

    • You might try Vitamin B-5 (Pantothenic Acid) 250 mg in the morning and 250 mg at night. It is an over the counter product that often helps and should do no harm. I hope it helps.

  • Hello Ethan,

    First of all thank you for your article. Very informative and helpful. I always wondered why anxiety made my teeth chatter, I thought it was unusual.
    Next, I’d like to urge you to keep on writing with the same heart.
    Thanks
    Joanne.

    • Hi Joanne,

      Thank you for your comment, the compliment and motivating words. That’s very much appreciated. I’m glad you found the article useful, and that if you find a way to control the anxiety, your teeth chattering problem will improve.
      Regards
      Ethan

  • A mouth guard can help protect your teeth at night, but if stress is causing the teeth grinding, you can look into ways to reduce or help manage the stress in your life. Have a look at WebMD’s comprehensive coverage about how teeth grinding affects your mouth, what it looks like, how to treat it, and much more.

    • Hi Austin
      I agree that if stress is causing the teeth grinding, then it’s a good idea to find ways to deal with the stress. And yes, webMD do have a good section about it too.
      Regards
      Ethan

  • My teeth feel like they’re chattering when I put my two front and bottom teeth together. This has been going on for like 5 months now and i think it’s because I drank 2 ounces of this sleeping aid liquid &$@! because this &@$&?@! sold it to me as promethazine with codeine and now I still feel jacked up from it 5 months after. Also my tongue doesn’t seem to be right to me anymore. When I talk I’ll stumble over my words so I get ridiculously anxious when talking to someone because my jaw feels tense and tongue just don’t feel right it’s hard to explain. I’ve had jaw issues for about 2 years now before I ever drank that crap but i started getting actual pain again today since 2013 and I’m just worried about all this I need help.

    • Hi Adrian,
      Thanks for your comment, and sorry about all the trouble you’ve been having. I think that really you need to speak to a doctor about this, if you haven’t already, and get some tests done to see what is going on there. There’s not much I can do to help unfortunately, beyond reccommending getting some profesional advice.
      I hope you do resolve it though, it sounds like an unpleasant thing to deal with.
      All the best
      Ethan

  • Yes, it happened two nights in a row. I quit the antibiotics a tad early. The doctor put me on them, and all my tests came back negative so I probably didn’t need them in the first place. It stopped as soon as I stopped the antibiotics!

    • Hi again Diane
      Thanks for replying again. I thought it would probably stop once the antibiotics were out of your system. At least you know that those particular ones are not for you!
      All the best
      Ethan

  • My Doctor put me on 3 antibiotics. All my tests that he did came back negative, but he told me to stay on them. For the past 2 nights I have woken up cold with my teeth chattering. My thermostat is set at 80! The Doctor told me to stay on the antibiotics even tho he could find no cause. I think they are doing this to me! They are making me sick. I have never had this happen before. I am stressed right now, but normally quite calm. I can’t wait to be done with these drugs.

    • Hi Diane

      Thank you for your comment, and I’m sorry to hear you had such problems with the teeth chattering. It’s possible it was the antibiotics causing it. It was a while ago that you left this comment, so if you’re following it, I’d be very interested to hear if the problem stopped once you’d finished the antibiotics?
      Regards
      Ethan

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