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.

100 CommentsLeave a comment

  • This happened to me after my closest friends funeral. I was shivering and my teeth were chattering badly when we got in the family car to leave. I was not cold his daughter covered me with a jacket and gave me a boiling sweet and it calmed down quickly . It was distressing though because it was so bad and has never happened before.

  • My teeth chattering occurs very often right as I am falling asleep. There have been times that I sense that I’m doing it and wake myself up. Other times, it happens in the middle of the night during sleep. When it happens as I’m drifting off to sleep, it feel very much like an involuntary reflex. Unfortunately, when it happens during sleep, in the middle of the night, I bite my tongue or inside of my mouth very badly. I usually wear a mouth guard that I bought at the drug store but there have been times that I’ve forgotten to put it in and I pay the price. It is hard chomping – continuous hard chomping.

    • Hi Patricia
      Thanks for your comment. I can empathize as I have a bad habit of biting my tongue too, and I know how painful it can be – even long into the next day. Maybe you could write a big note somewhere in your bedroom reminding you to put it in at night?
      Regards
      Ethan

  • My mom had undergone a DBS surgery last year.Now,her teeth have started chattering frequently.Can you please let me know what can be done to remove this problem

    • Hi Sumit
      Thanks for your comment. The best thing is to advise her to speak to her doctor and let them know what’s been happening. You can try the tips in the article, but it might be that they can provide some specific advice based on her history.
      Regards
      Ethan

  • My teeth are chattering together when I get anxious, or stressed or just randomly. Sometimes for very long periods of time. They even chatter between words when I speak. I just don’t know what to do at this point. It doesn’t hurt. And it started about a week ago. And had progressed to what I just described.

    • Hi Caleb
      Thanks for your comment. Have you spoken to your primary care doctor about it? Perhaps they can help identify a cause. Ig you’re sure it’s happening more when you’re stressed or anxious, then that’s a sign to take action and try to reduce both. Perhaps you can work on whatever it is that’s triggering it – if possible. If you can’t reduce the cause of the stress, perhaps a self-help technique like mindfulness could be helpful.
      Regards
      Ethan

  • After breast surgery in September 15,2016, I woke up with teeth chattering and I still have it 6 months later. No one seems to know how to correct this including TMJ dentist, very expensive (next visit $775.00 dollars), primary care doctor, neuologist, and many other doctors. I also started to talk in my sleep (never before). HELP

    • Hi Trula
      Thanks for your comment. Sorry to hear this. Has anyone considered the possibility of it being related to stress or anxiety connected with the surgery? Or did they look into the effects of the surgery to see if anything could be causing it, or medication even?
      I wish I could help you, but I’m afraid there’s not a lot I can do from here! Perhaps asking for a referral to a sleep specialist might help, if it’s only happening in your sleep. And if it’s daytime as well, maybe doing some work on your stress or anxiety levels could be useful?
      Regards
      Ethan

  • I had an issue with my teeth chattering after being given toradol for pain in the emergency room. About 10 seconds after it started. I was told that the medicine could not have caused it but I don’t know what else it could have been.

  • I have found in my practice that a lot of teeth grinding and chattering are due to a parasitic infection. It can be intestinal or in the blood stream. There are homeopathic remedies and certain herbs that can provide a die off for the infection. Parasitic infections can be the route cause of a lot of physical and emotional problems. You don’t have to travel to a tropical country to have this problem. Pam Nori Homeopath

    • Hi Ankita
      Thanks for your comment. Yes, it could be called bruxism – some people do find they subconsciously clench their jaw or teeth when concentrating on something else.
      Regards
      Ethan

  • A person using an air compressor in my home pulled the hose apart while the compressor was running. He was 30 inches from my head. I immediately knew my hearing was effected. Later my teeth started chattering, and I had TMJ all on the right side of my face. My doctor changed some meds, but that did not change my problems.
    Has anyone else had this problem.? My dentist said he didn’t know what to do, but it was obvious that I did not have these problems before the accident.
    ,

  • I lost my spouse 8 months ago unexpectedly. Since her death I’ve experienced chattering, lock jaw and my gums are receding from my teeth. I can’t seem to stop any of it so I’m going back to the dentist. It’s so distressing not to mention costly.

    • Hi there
      I’m very sorry for your loss. It’s totally understandable that you’ve had some difficulties since then, and I wonder if as well as visiting the dentist, asking for some grievance counselling might help? It’s very likely to have an emotional reason, so getting help from someone with that might be a better way that just dealing with any symptoms.
      Regards
      Ethan

  • Hello Dr. Green
    I got teeth shivering after start my tinnitus in my head (like frequncey sound) (tinnitus start 3 years ago from September 2013) , first I was feared about it but when I visit 2-3 ENT’s , 3-4 psychiatrist , Dentist as well as my homeopath doctors but they all told me to do avoid it, my teeth shivering only when I do close them of each otherwise I do not feel it. But I’m taking alcohol thrice a week, I was quite alcohol for 5-6 month when I start tinnitus but I felt my anxiety problem was increased after quit alcohol , so my psychiatrist ask me to start alcohol up to 90 ml twice a week, but my teeth shivering problem is still same. I’m taking homeopathic medicine & it control my anxiety a lot & reduce my tinnitus sound, but teeth shivering problem is still there. I want to know that which hair oil should I use for head massage to reduce stress & can I put one drop of any oil in my ears as these are feel dryness,
    Thanks you in advance to reply our problems.
    Regards
    GS

    • Sorry I forgot to tell you that sometime I’m taking anti anxiety pill to keep my nerves relax, it’s name Escitalopram 10mg & Oxazepam 0.50 mg at night time once or twice a week if needed to good sleep.

    • Hi Gurinder
      Thanks for your comment. To be honest, I’m not sure which oil you can use for head massages to reduce stress! But I’m sure if you look it up online you can find websites with advice about massage oils etc. As for ear drops, your local pharmacist can probably help you with that.
      Regards
      Ethan

  • I am a nail biter. My wife has been tolerant in our thirty year marriage but now I’m teeth clicking. All of the above apply to me but I like Adela and Ethan Green’s comments. Maybe it is not always a negative. I’m a musical person. I used to sing a lot but I have a lung condition now so my singing is limited. I drum my fingers and tap cadence all the time. I think my teeth clicking is part of the musical stuff. I am constantly problem solving and my wife has said I make facial expressions but I am actually thinking a lot.

    • Hi Herbert
      Thanks for your comment. It’s interesting to hear your view of it being connected to music in some way. I wonder if it’s also perhaps due to stress/anxiety etc. Do you find you bite your nails and have the teeth chattering more when you have things on your mind?
      Regards
      Ethan

  • I have a friend suffering from Dementia & Lyme Disease who lay down for his nap & his teeth began to chatter uncontrollably. Any idea as to why or how to stop it? Should we seek medical attention?

  • I click my teeth incessantly. I have a tune of some sort in my mind most of the day. I click my teeth together in time with the music. Chewing gum seems to help. However, I can’t chew gun every day of my life! I don’t know if it’s due to anxiety or what. I just wish it would stop. I catch myself doing it & say, OK, for the next 5 minutes, I’m not going to do it. In less than 60 seconds, I’m clicking my teeth again. Any suggestions?

    • Hi William
      Thanks for your comment. I can understand your desire not to chew gum all day long. Perhaps you could have a go at self-help techniques for reducing anxiety instead of tackling just the symptoms? There are lots of techniques out there – the one I always recommend being mindfulness. Have a look into it if you like – you might find that it helps you more in the long-run.
      Regards
      Ethan

  • Hello doctor Green,

    I had a bad fall in March this year, 2016. Right after the fall, I had frequent dizziness and confusion. I was diagnosed with minor concussion. I was off work for 3 or 4 days. Since then I often experience teeth chattering and it increased when I had stress from work. (My job was working on cases to resolve clients’ issues, so it caused a great deal of stress). I also suffer from tingling on my fingers. When I brought that up to my primary care doctor, he said he never heard about teeth chattering (I think he suspected that I made that up because he sent me to a brain MRI after the fall but it did not detect anything wrong). He sent me to a neurologist who later confirmed my symptoms and suggested some types of treatments to my PCP. I had B12 shots (after the test result showed that I lacked this). Now I stopped working; the fingers tingling have gone but the teeth chattering still exists. I don’t want to bring this back to my PCP again but am very concerned about this condition so I decided to do my own researching. Please kindly advise. Thank you so much.

    • Hi Therese
      Thanks for your comment. I know you said you don’t want to bring it up again, but I think it’s probably a good idea to do so. Perhaps you could try and see a different doctor if you don’t feel the first one could help? And did the neurologist suggest anything for it?
      Regards
      Ethan

  • I daily inhale salmetrol and fluticasone propionate powder250mcg .since 5years. l have teeth chattering from 6 months. I expect your comments.

    • Hi Shreedevi
      Thanks for your comment. If you have any physical complaints which you suspect might be a side effect of your medication, it’s a good idea to talk it through with your doctor. They can tell you whether it’s connected or not hopefully.
      Regards
      Ethan

  • I got the teeth chattering when I was quite young. It would always happen whenever I laugh and for the most part I could control it. However as I start to get older it also started to happen whenever I cried and more recently like you said when I was stressed. Now I can’t really control it at all. Why do you think my jaw chatters when I laugh though? I don’t think that I am stressed at that point in time.

    • Hi Adela
      Thanks for your comment. I guess it could be due to the emotion that comes with being happy and laughing. Perhaps it’s connected to the concept of feeling in a heightened emotional state, rather than any one thing like stress or sadness.
      Regards
      Ethan

    • Adela, thank you for posting this. Its kinda nice to know that my daughter isn’t the only one. With in the last 6 months my 13 year old started teeth chattering when she laughs for more than a chuckle. No stress. She doesn’t take any medications. She has a good food diet. so she’s getting all her vitamins. It only happens when she laughs a lot at one time. Sometimes she can control it, sometimes she can’t. She is a healthy kid. Did you by chance ever get a reason why your teeth chatter when you laugh? I’ve never seen or heard of this happening before now with someone. Our Dr. doesn’t have an answer either.

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