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What Makes Teeth Chatter

admin on July 12, 2011

Q. What might cause teeth to chatter other than the cold?

A. There are several kinds of involuntary jaw movements, said Dr. Steven Syrop, section chief of temporomandibular disorders at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, and it is important to distinguish chattering from grinding and from still another problem, called oromandibular dystonia. “Teeth chattering is usually related to shivering, which is the body’s response to cold,” Dr. Syrop said, but it can also result from an infection causing chills.

Teeth grinding, or bruxism, is thought to be a habit aggravated by stress, he said. The exact cause is not known, but recent evidence has de-emphasized the role of occlusion, or the way the upper and lower teeth come together. “Different from this is when the jaw muscles contract and relax spontaneously, producing constant jaw movement,” Dr. Syrop said. “This is called oromandibular dystonia.” This kind of motion can be the result of several different medical conditions, including reaction to certain medications.

According to the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation, oromandibular dystonia is one of more than a dozen kinds of dystonia, in which the neurological mechanism that makes muscles relax when they are not in use does not function properly. The contractions can interfere with chewing and swallowing.

By C. CLAIBORNE RAY New York Times