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.
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.
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.