7 Reasons & Fixes for Unilateral Chewing: Hygienist’s Guide

Chewing on one side of the mouth comes with many risks, as it can cause irreversible damage to the mouth, cause pain and discomfort, and even change the shape of your face.

As a dental hygienist, I work with my patients to improve their oral health and overall well-being.

Being able to give well-rounded care to my patients is a passion of mine. My job isn’t just cleaning teeth; it is to work together with my patients to help them attain optimal oral health.

Dental hygiene treatment includes discussing parafunctional habits such as only chewing on one side.

Below I go into much more depth about why chewing only on one side might occur and what to do to rectify the cause.

1. Our subconscious and dominant brain hemisphere

Our subconscious mind works incredibly well at choosing which side of our body we prefer to use. We have a dominant hemisphere of our brains that manifests in our behaviour, such as being left or right-handed.

This study Opens in a new tab.explored nineteen young and healthy volunteers who chewed hard and soft foods while their masseter muscles underwent surface electromyography to determine which side was more dominant.

According to the study, the preferred side of chewing is directly influenced by the dominant hemisphere of the brain, even on a subconscious level.

Usually, chewing is an unconscious activity that we don’t focus on because it relaxes our body and activates the parasympathetic nervous system.

Feeling sluggish after eating is common, also known as a “food coma.” It happens because our bodies are relaxed and not sensing any danger.

To improve food distribution, be more mindful when chewing, move the food around your mouth, and chew evenly. You can even count the number of chews and make sure you’re biting the same amount on either side.

It’s crucial to understand the risks involved in eating on one side of the mouth, not just the causes. I wrote a post which is linked below, that goes into a high level of detail about the consequences!

Read Now: Risks of Eating on One Side of Your Mouth; Hygienist’s View

But sometimes, a more complex issue causes uneven chewing, and I go over those below.

2. Dental pain and sensitivity

If you have any pain and sensitivity while chewing, you should have a thorough examination done by a dentist to rule out tooth decay, infection or any other dental issues.

Treating the pain and sensitivity at the source is essential to help reduce or eliminate dental pain/sensitivity.

The different types of X-rays you may have at the dental office.

The dentist may want to take X-rays to see what is underneath the gumline where the naked eye cannot see.

Read Now: How Often Should You Get Xrays at the Dentist? DH Explains

3. Missing teeth/teeth position

Missing teeth in the mouth create an imbalance of forces and can make chewing more difficult as the food will not be chewed thoroughly.

If teeth are not aligned, it affects how they come together, bite down, and break up food. If there are large spaces or tilted/rotated teeth, the food may not even be chewed between the teeth.

I have patients who complain about eating difficulties because they are missing teeth. Some have even mentioned they don’t like going out for dinner or eating in front of other people because they have become self-conscious about eating.

Partial dentures

For my patients who are missing teeth in their mouths, I discuss their goals for tooth replacement. Replacing teeth will significantly improve the distribution of eating forces.

If teeth are missing, it is best to have them replaced to improve the distribution of eating forces. This could be by dental implants, bridges, or dentures.

4. Orthodontics; Invisalign, traditional braces, dental surgery

If the teeth are being moved to an improved alignment, it is essential to remember it is a journey to get to the final result.

During orthodontic treatment or dental surgery, the position of teeth gradually shifts, causing changes in the alignment and bite as the treatment progresses.

Sometimes during treatment, the alignment of teeth will be extremely off, and the teeth will not even come together in parts of the mouth.

If you are concerned about how your teeth are biting together, speak to your dental professional, but in the meantime, below is a post I wrote about perfect bite so you can check your mouth.

Read Now: Perfect Bite: How Teeth Should Line Up and Come Together

5. Cheek biting

It is so painful to accidentally keep biting the cheek when eating. Over time if you keep biting the cheek, scar tissue can form, making the tissue larger and increasing the chances of biting it repeatedly.

A person may avoid the area where they keep biting and will chew on the other side of the mouth.

To avoid cheek biting, eat more slowly, or have your dental professional check the area that keeps getting bitten. You may be able to have some of the tissue removed to help prevent cheek biting.

6. Imbalance of jaw muscles

An imbalance of jaw muscles can pull the mandible (lower jaw) more in one direction, which can start to disrupt the bite.

An imbalance of jaw muscles can develop over time if you eat primarily on one side and work out those muscles.

It can also occur from clenching and grinding, which I go over below.

a dental nightguard

7. Clenching and grinding

Clenching and grinding most commonly happen at night; many people do not know they’re doing it.

Clenching and grinding not only affect the jaw muscles but also have other consequences, such as gum recession and loss of tooth structure, and can also cause irreversible damage to the mouth.

The head and neck muscles are also affected by clenching and grinding, leading to headaches, neck spasms, and decreased quality of life.

Wearing a nightguard and seeing other specialized healthcare professionals can significantly reduce clenching and grinding and minimize pain.

Everything is connected, and we work closely with physiotherapists, massage therapists and other medical professionals to provide the patient with well-rounded and thorough care.

Even though I cannot give a massage to help with the jaw muscles, we refer to the correct professional.

I’ve witnessed patients benefit significantly from physiotherapy and massage therapy to alleviate jaw discomfort.

I hope this information has been helpful to you!

Have a great day,

Holly 🙂

Holly Verran RDH

I have been a Registered Dental Hygienist in Ontario, Canada, since 2014. I currently hold registration and good standing with the College of Dental Hygienists of Ontario and the Canadian Dental Hygiene Association.

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