The contact area during habitual biting can vary according to the activity of the jaw musculature. Forceful masticatory muscle activity may also induce deformations of the dento-alveolar tissues and the supporting skeleton, yielding various tooth loads despite an apparently even distribution of tooth contacts. To investigate this variability, we measured bite forces simultaneously at multiple dental sites during maximum-effort clenching tasks. In each of four healthy adults with complete natural dentitions, four strain-gauge transducers in the right side of an acrylic maxillary appliance occluded with the lower canine, second premolar, and first and second molars. These, and matching contralateral contacts, were balanced by means of articulating paper and a force monitor (type F appliance). Bite forces were recorded when the subjects, without visual feedback, clenched maximally on the appliance. Similar recordings were made when contralateral molar and all contralateral contacts were removed (type R and type U appliances, respectively). Although the relation between individual forces often changed during the initial increase in force, it was generally constant around the maximum. The maximum forces at the four dental locations varied in distribution between subjects, but were characterized by posteriorly increasing forces. Forces in the anterior region (especially at the canine) significantly increased (up to 10 times) when clenching took place on unilateral contacts only (type U) as compared with fully balanced ones (type F). Bite force distribution thus changed with biting strength and the location of occlusal contacts. Increased force in the canine region during unilateral clenching seems related to the pattern of jaw muscle co-activation and the physical properties of the craniomandibular and dental supporting tissues which induce complex deformations of the lower jaw.
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