​Why do our teeth chatter when we are cold?

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Why do our teeth chatter when we are cold?

Overview

The involuntary chattering of our teeth happens when we are placed under mental or physical duress. While most episodes of teeth chattering represent a normal response to environmental stimuli, others are caused by neurological disorders and drug use.

Human sensitivity to cold brings about a number of physical reactions that are beyond the control of the individual that experiences them. One of those is the chattering of their teeth. It is a natural human reaction to this type of physical challenge. Most of us are familiar with it.

Another cause for teeth chattering is stress and anxiety. When we are placed under extreme mental duress; our nervous system triggers a number of physical responses to ready us for action against perceived threats. Usually, this type of stress is not caused by immediate dangers to our bodies. However, the nervous system will often interpret many different types of stress in the same way. For instance, the anxiety that many people experience over financial difficulties will feel identical to the anxiety felt when the same person is in real physical danger. This despite the fact that the immediate threat of physical harm has the potential to lead to far more devastating and permanent consequences than temporary financial troubles.

Teeth chatter from stress

Stress is an unavoidable part of life. It can also be an invaluable motivator for us to solve our problems. Stress is not always a bad thing. You place your body under stress whenever you engage in any rigorous physical activity. Your mind is placed under stress when you are challenged academically. If you endure these sorts of stressors you will be a stronger person in the long run. Your body and mind need a break from these pressures. This allows you to recharge before you encounter these types of challenging situations again.

There are other types of stress that, when constantly presented to us, can cause harm to our psyche. Being that the mind and body are connected, a constantly stressed mind will start to manifest itself physically sooner or later. One of these physical manifestations is teeth chattering.

When a person is stressed, the well-known “fight or flight” response is triggered. Signals travel from the hypothalamus to the nervous system. The signal moves to the pituitary gland as well. Once this takes place, cortisol and epinephrine are created. These are the human body’s stress hormones.

Exposure to extreme mental stress can cause teeth to chatter

Through mechanisms that are not entirely understood, this reaction (that occurs in all healthy people) leads to the chattering of teeth in some individuals.

Teeth Chatter from neurological disorders

The overwhelming majority of people that experience involuntary chattering of their teeth are perfectly healthy. It is a normal response to certain situations. However, some people chatter their teeth due to neurological disorders. Here are some of the disorders that commonly cause teeth chattering in those that they afflict:

Benign Fasciculation Syndrome:

This disorder is characterized by involuntary twitching of the voluntary muscles of the body. The illness has varying degrees of seriousness that are highly dependent upon the ailing individual. Interestingly, this disorder can be triggered by stress. It can be temporarily resolved if the involuntarily twitching muscle is voluntarily engaged. Unfortunately; once the voluntary movement ends, the twitching is prone to begin again.

Most people that suffer from Benign Fasciculation Syndrome do not require intervention with medication. For those that find the syndrome to be unduly burdensome, there are effective treatments for the disorder. Anti-seizure drugs and beta-blockers that are used to treat other tremor disorders can be employed to significantly reduce and/or eliminate the twitching caused by this disease.

The good news is that there are no known permanent physical issues that arise from Benign Fasciculation Syndrome. The prognosis for those afflicted is quite good. It does not progress into a more serious illness and only a tiny percentage of people surveyed 7 years after their initial diagnosis experienced an increased intensity in their symptoms.

Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s Disease is characterized by uncontrollable tremors. It may start as a slight twitch of a person’s hand, an inability to swing their arms when they walk and/or a lack of facial expression.

Unfortunately, Parkinson’s Disease is progressive. It only becomes more pronounced with time. There is no known cure for this ailment. Still, there are effective treatments for the disease that can help a person to live a longer and more fulfilled life.

These are just a few examples of a broad array of disorders that can bring about teeth chattering. These diseases fall under the umbrella of tremor disorders. They range in severity from the less serious Benign Fasciculation Syndrome to more serious diseases like Parkinson’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis.

Teeth Chatter from drug use

Some types of prescription and illegal drugs are known to cause teeth to chatter

Controlled substances have been known to cause teeth chattering in individuals that introduce them into their systems. This can occur in both prescription drugs and street drugs. Ingredients within these drugs activate the nervous system. One of the numerous potential reactions to exposure to these substances is the chattering of teeth.

Teeth chatter from cold temperatures

The human body goes to great lengths to keep our body temperatures very close to 98.6 degrees. When it is very hot, the nervous system activates our sweat glands in an effort to cool us off. Our blood vessels expand and blood is circulated more efficiently from our internal organs to our extremities. This is done in an effort to equalize the temperature burden that the body carries when it is hot.

In cold temperatures, our bodies are prompted to slow us down. Our metabolism slows down and our blood vessels constrict. Blood is concentrated around our vital internal organs. Meanwhile; blood flow to our extremities, such as our fingertips and toes, is significantly reduced. This is why these areas of our bodies are the first to feel the rigors of cold weather.

Your blood pressure rises and your heart works a bit harder to provide optimum blood flow to the body.

When these measures fail to preserve optimal body temperature, your body attempts to generate heat on its’ own. Your body begins to involuntarily shiver and your teeth begin to chatter. Once your body senses that your skin temperature is going down, this response is triggered.

The chattering of your teeth in cold weather is your body’s attempt to create more heat for its’ internal organs. This is a sign that you need to take shelter in a warmer environment immediately. Shivering and teeth chattering provide a temporary boost to body temperature. However, they are highly inefficient and will soon have no effect. Your body temperature will continue to fall until you are able to get into a warmer environment.

Many people are injured or even killed by the cold every year. If your teeth begin to chatter due to cold weather, you should interpret that as a strong message from your body that it is being placed under exceptional duress due to the sub-optimal temperature that it is being exposed to.  You should retreat to a warm shelter as soon as possible.

Review

Whether your teeth begin chattering from mental or physical pressures, it is always a sign that you are under some sort of duress. The majority of cases of teeth chattering are not a cause for alarm. Most of us can get out of the cold or remove ourselves from situations that are stressful. If you are experiencing chronic chattering of your teeth with no logical explanation for the cause, it is prudent for you to be evaluated by a medical professional as soon as possible. The underlying cause may be serious. The sooner that the issue can be identified, the more likely that it will be effectively treated or even cured.   

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