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 stories, theories and solutions in the comments below.

 


20 Responses to “Teeth Chattering – The Main Causes And Solutions”

  1. Sahra says:

    I have it a lot when I’m nervous, excited or in pain and sometimes when i am very tired. And all the reasons you told here above when I’m afraid etc. I actually have it a lot.

    • Hi Sahra

      Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. I’m sorry to hear you experience teeth chattering symptoms so often. Have you found anything that helps? Hopefully this article might help in some small way:-)

      Best wishes
      Ethan

  2. Crystal says:

    i never knew that i chatter my teeth in my sleep no one has ever told me recently I’ve been sleeping with my boyfriend and he has noticed that these past two months that i have stayed with him that i chatter my teeth. that i do it everyday when im sleeping, kinda maybe me scared but maybe its because its cold?

    • Hi Crystal

      Thanks for your comment. You could definitely try and eliminate the cold possibility by turning up your thermostat for a couple of nights and see if it stops. But it seems unlikely that you would sleep if it’s so cold your teeth are chattering. And is it definitely the faster chattering, and not slower grinding, which is something different?

      Regards
      Ethan

  3. Crystal says:

    it’s the faster chattering he says that i do it mostly every night at least twice or three times a night.

    • Hi Crystal

      It’s your choice then whether to see someone about it or not. If it is very short lasting each time, then it may not be such an issue. But if you are doing it at length most nights, then it could be good to get a professional opinion. Not least to ensure your teeth don’t get damaged over time. And don’t forget to try my heating idea!
      All the best, and let me know if you do find out more about why it’s happening to you exactly.
      Regards
      Ethan

  4. Lismay says:

    Hi Ethan-

    This teeth chattering when not cold thing has just started for me.

    I find this article to be the most informative & helpful I’ve found. Even compared to sites where doctors write comments & such. They write one or the other of your listed reasons, but not all.

    It’s likely a new & hopefully temporary anxiety bit for me, &/or a medication cut back.

    I’m not as worried about it now. Thank you. Keep up the good work!

    • Hi Lismay,

      Thank you firstly for your comment, and secondly for the compliment! It’s always nice to hear that an article has proven useful. I do try to cover topics from different angles, and to be fair, probably have more time than doctors to do so!
      Hopefully it will just be a passing thing for you.
      Take care,
      Ethan

  5. Joanna says:

    My teeth chatter when I have extreme anxiety or stress. I’m not sure if it’s an actual “panic attack”, as I don’t experience my chest being pushed or “sat” on. I seem to breath Ok, unless I REALLY start to tense up and hyper-ventilate. There’s like 3 different stages of “chattering”. One is the basic “coming on” symptom. But as you described, the more I “focus” on it, the more it comes on. The 2nd is “chattering” like I’m cold (when I’m not). It’s a more “open mouth” (shorter in between) chatter, and usually harder on my teeth. The worst one happens when my whole body “tenses” up, and I seem to have my mouth and teeth completely together, but the chattering is at is worst. Short, fast, chattering, with my whole body even starting to “tremble”. That is when I usually hyper-ventilate, because I think of all the things in my life that “stress” me out. I had one of these episodes last night. I have been having pain in my lower back that goes down to my LEFT leg for about 10 years. At first, they could not find anything, because the focus was on my leg, and not on my back. Then I got an MRI 5 years ago that said I just had the degeneterive disc disease (arthritis as you get older), and a few, 3, bulging discs (I was 37 at the time). They also mentioned a small “tear”, and a small limpoma (?..Sorry for the spelling)that they were not too concerned with. Five years ago they were “bulging”, but the most recent one in October says “protruding” discs now. The “pain” is now in my lower back (before it was just my left leg), left thigh (sometimes front, sometimes back of my thigh), left calf (back or side of it), and even my foot (left). So, they are treating my back (with epidural injections that haven’t worked), and medication for the left leg and back pain (which is USUALLY on the LEFT side of my spine. However, recently (2 months ago), I found 2 “knots” in my pelvic/hip area (same side-left), that they want my physical therapist to concentrate on with the myofascial release technique. It does help, and usually I am pain free (for a few hours), but the weird thing is that she can work my pelvic area on the “Illyactus” (sorry for spelling) muscle, where there were two knots that actually felt like a “bone”! Or she can work the muscles in my lower left back, and get just as much relief. I also shared that only about once a month (for past 8 months) I would have a sharp pain on my left side of my back (kidney area) at the very END of my urination. It then went to my whole left side (front,side, and back) at the END of urinating (but it was only OCCASIONALLY). However, about 3 times (all spread out), I had the same pain, on my whole left side, but through the WHOLE TIME of urinating. She ordered a CT Scan at that point, which came back “normal”. I have not had an episode of that for about a month now. I think it has to do with “lying” on a machine that’s called “kneeding fingers” (massage machine) that has 2 HARD balls that circulate, like someone giving you a massage. I lay on it (usually on my left pelvic/upper abdomen-I know NOT to lay on the “middle” of my stomach area), and work out any tight spots I feel. Problem is, lately I have spent HOURS (3-4) CONSTANTLY digging into my pelvic/abdomen area to get relief for my leg. I only do that if I cannot take the leg pain any longer. I have been lying on it more and more lately, and for longer (hours) amounts of time. I have also worked out “knots” on the RIGHT side of my neck just below my jaw (So lower pain is all the LEFT side, and upper pain is the RIGHT side). There is a muscle there that she told me the name, but I can’t remember. There’s also a spot on the beginning of my hairline on the back of my head (a muscle). Sometimes, I feel a “shooting” sharp pain all the way to the front of my head, and is sometimes too unbearable to continue. But I continue, and usually feel better (in my back and leg) after working those muscles too! Then I drink lots of water, and take an Epsom salt bath. Another weird thing is that I have worked out the same muscles on the LEFT side of my neck and head (that do not seem to hurt like the RIGHT side), but have gotten “relief” from that too. Experiencing the “release” symptoms (dizzy, drunk, happy, emotional) that I had in the therapist’s office when she first “released” some muscles in my pelvic/hip area…Ok, icing on the cake…I do take a lot of medication. Adderall XR, Lamictal, XANAX, Nucyenta, Ambien CR, etc. I had taken 1/2 of a Xanax an hour before my “episode” started, which was because I was in excruciating pain. I had also taken 2 500mg Tylenol, and 3 200mg Advil to try and get out of pain. I was crying because I was in so much pain. But this time, it was my lower back that was killing me. I started on the machine (I don’t turn it on to “move”, I just lay on the tight spots) right under my ribs on the left side (but it was my lower back that was hurting), I was on it for about an hour and a half before my husband came home. I was getting “relief”, but “could not stop”, as always, because I keep finding “new spots”…What set me into the “anxiety” (teeth chattering) was when my husband “tested” my thighs to see if they “felt” the same on both sides. I had told him that my left thigh was “numb” in an particular area since Sunday. He tried with his fingers, which I told him he needed to use 2 of the SAME “things” with the same pressure on each side. He used 2 “tops” of a pen. The reason I freaked out, was because he kept saying, “Ok, do you feel that?”, which he had been asking me before he would start with his fingers. I told him twice that the pen was on my shorts on the left side (twice). He then said, “No, honey, it’s not”. When I sat up to “prove” he was wrong, I saw that the pen was not on my shorts, and indeed on my leg!! I could not feel it on my leg!! I lost it, and started to break down and cry. Of course, that lead into the chattering teeth, and my whole body tensing up too. It was the “worst” teeth chattering by far. We’ve haven’t been “getting along”, so he didn’t hug and rub my back (like he used to), but did lay beside me. He stayed with me until I could “breath” again, and my teeth and body stopped chattering/trembling. So, with that said, my husband said he thinks it “could” be a lot of things, but that he didn’t want to tell me, because I’ll just get scared. This was before the numbness “test”. He did mention MS. Do you know how they “check” for that? Is it bloodwork, or through a neurologist? I have seen a neurologist years ago, and remember the same tests she did. It was exactly the same on both sides…So, to sum it up, I have the anxiety part, the medication part, and now, I guess the “neurological” part. I know the chattering was “set off” by my freaking out and crying, but the other stuff you said makes sense too. Also, I do NOT eat healthy at all. I do take vitamins faithfully. I do not work out, but play softball (first time) on my church’s league. I am 42, and will be 43 in August. I have 3 boys 10-17, and I am not overweight. I have a “tummy” from my boys that never went away, but my weight for my height (and age) is good. I had been a stay at home mom most of my life, but started driving limos in 2011. I drove until last October. I quit because it was “too much” to keep up with the boys, my husband, and house. However, the pain has just gotten worse and worse. I notice it is the worst from 11:00am to about 6:30pm. I do not have pain (usually) when I am sleeping, or when I first get up, or “unwind” for bed. I also notice that if I am “preoccupied”, I still have the pain, but I don’t “focus” on it, so it is bearable. Like now, I have been writing this, and my left side of my lower back has been burning. Anyways, I am sorry for the EXTREMELY long “comment”. I am not one to “comment” on the internet like this, for ANYTHING! So, maybe that’s why I shared so much. Plus, I am searching for answers desperately now. It is affecting my everyday life, and I am miserable. :( Anyways, if you have feedback, or can recommend something, let me know. My husband keeps saying DIET, DIET, DIET! I know that would probably help, but I don’t eat all day. Only once at night before I go to bed. And, unless he cooks, it is not healthy. :( Thank you for reading. I appreciate it.
    Joanna~

    • Hi Joanna

      First of all I apologize for the time it’s taken to reply to your comment. And secondly, don’t worry about the length. On some of the other articles readers have left extremely long comments, and I know that other readers really appreciate them and often find them helpful.

      It sounds like you have been through hell, and all the while having a family with 3 boys to looks after, and managing to work as well! So hats off to you for the determination that you must have to deal with so much pain and uncertainty and still be a mum and wife.

      With all that, something I do wonder is how much stress you must have been / still be under. I know you talk about anxiety and various physical problems. But have you thought much about the stress that this all probably creates?

      I know this might be very basic advice, but sometimes the simplest ideas are the best. Have you thought about taking some time out? Maybe going on a little holiday, or even just taking a long weekend to do something relaxing? I’m not saying it will cure you of course, but it is a thought which immediately jumps out at me.

      And perhaps as well as seeking physical help from professionals, maybe seek some talking therapy if you haven’t already. Someone you can talk to about the anxiety and any other emotional issues that everything else is tied in with.

      I’m not an expert on ME, so I can’t help you with that one. But I would suggest talking to your husband again about what he thinks, and address his thoughts. Whether he is right or not, it’s better that you communicate fully – at least that’s how I see things. When anyone has health problems, the family is one of the most important factors in managing it.

      Sorry I can’t help more. Feel free to come back and give an update at any time. And I wish you all the best.
      Ethan

  6. Maddie spence says:

    Is teeth chattering in your sleep bad for your teeth? I chatter my teeth but I don’t grind them

    • Hi Maddie

      I imagine that happening over a long period of time isn’t going to be great for your teeth. Even if it is only light, imagine the effect if it happens thousands of times. If you’re concerned about it, you can always talk to your dentist about it who may be able to tell you if it’s having an effect so far.
      Regards
      Ethan

  7. Angie says:

    I suffered from extreme anxiety attacks, having at least 10 per day and 1 per night. (Caused by stress, dumped my boyfriend of 10 years and started a new job!) My doctor suggested cutting out coffee and alcohol, and I agreed to only cutting the coffee! Within weeks my attacks lessened. I went 2 years without coffee and slowly tried to reintroduce it but recently have been drinking 3 cups a day. Well a couple of weeks ago I woke in the middle of the night to a panic attack but this time it was accompanied by extreme teeth chattering. Scariest panic attack I have ever have! All I can say is that I have cut back on caffeine and I haven’t had one since!

    • Hi Angie

      Thanks for your comment, and sorry to hear you’ve had such a battle with anxiety and panic attacks. It’s great though that you now know what seems to be bringing them on, i.e. caffeine. I think if I was in your position I’d definitely be cutting back, or stopping altogether drinking caffeine. It’s not the easiest one to deny yourself though, especially if you like a coffee in the morning. But if you did it once, I’m sure you can do it again.
      All the best and thanks for sharing your story,
      Ethan

  8. David Walmsley says:

    Mine is a one-off, so far. When I went to bed last night I got into a cold bed, as usual, the thermometer set at 15 Celsius (59F), with my socks and talk radio on, the former because I have peripheral neuropathy and the latter because it helps me fall asleep quickly; visualizing the subject matter segues into dreams et voila! The radio program was one I don’t like, but I left it on, and it served its purpose. I woke up a little while later because my teeth were chattering and I was shivering and breathing stertorously – as deeply as I could then but not as deep as I can when awake, with a quick in-out. My head was also tense. I did not notice all the details right away but I felt decidedly cold. But because I knew it would be colder outside the bedclothes (two summer duvets) I stayed in. The only anxiety I had was over my then present condition. It kept me awake for about half an hour, just before the end of which I clasped my head in my hands, and the next thing I knew I was waking up normally 7 hours later. Thoughts that had crossed my mind included these: that the cause might have been food poisoning – I had cooked an omelette in the interesting looking debris from a previous meal cooked in it a couple of days before; if I were dying, then so be it – I would know more about that when and where I woke up. I had other thoughts but these are the main ones. The experience was quite dreadful in the fact that I was unable to control it. Only resignation to its continuity resolved it by letting me fall asleep.

    • Hi David

      Thank you for your comment and sharing your experience of chattering teeth in what sounds like a very chilly part of the world! If it was a one-off you may never know exactly what caused it. Perhaps it was something physical, perhaps your two duvets not keeping you warm enough, and perhaps something on your mind which you weren’t even fully aware of.
      Feeling helpless is never a nice feeling, so it’s understandable that the lack of control made the experience as unpleasant as it was. I think you probably did one of the only things you could do by accepting it and trying not to get too stressed. If it happens again you might want to experiment with other ways to keep your bedroom a bit warmer. Maybe even think of getting a heated mattress pad for example. And maybe cook the next omelet a different way just in case…
      All the best
      Ethan

  9. David Walmsley says:

    Thanks, Ethan. I sensed a chuckle in the last line. I will certainly throw out the half of it that I didn’t eat and saved in the fridge. When I decided to cook in the interesting mixture of spices, sauces and fat, I had forgotten what I had used them for. Since then I’ve remembered that it was four lamb chops. This makes it pretty certain that it was food poisoning. A remarkable warning to keep me on the right path. In the past I have recognized it only by pains in the gut and borborygmous. As for more heat, I find it is easier to sleep in a cool bedroom, though I occasionally use a hot water bottle for my feet.

    • Hi again David,

      Nice to hear back from you!
      It was a chuckle, but meant in the nicest possible way:-)
      It’s probably a good thing that it was just food poisoning, as you don’t need to worry about having developed an on-going problem. And that’s probably one of the few occasions when you could say that food poisoning was a good thing!
      Hopefully you’ll never experience either issue again.
      All the best
      Ethan

  10. David Walmsley says:

    Thanks for your thoughts, Ethan.

    I can’t guarantee that it won’t happen again by the same cause. I was diagnosed with ADHD when I was 63 (9 years ago) and reading Gabor Mate’s “Scattered Minds” on it was like reading my own biography. Some of us don’t learn until we’ve made the same mistake seventeen times. Mind you, the trauma of being out of control, despite the clarity of my mind, could account for at least 16 mistakes. I certainly won’t use a used frying pan in the near future. But thanks for your hope, anyway. Yes, as you say, it was a good thing!
    Dave

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