Research Explains Human Biting Mechanism

Anders Johansson, a doctoral student at the Department of Integrative Medical Biology from Umeå University in Sweden has brought us into attention his thesis: how do we control our biting power and shape.

Human Biting Mechanism

The research is rather delicious as he studied how we can control our bite in order to take only the chocolate from a nut dipped in this delicacy. If we didn’t have the ability to control our muscles we should not be able to take just the chocolate, we should take a big bite from the nut too.

According to Johansson’s thesis we do have the possibility to control the power of our muscles and what’s even more amazing a simple bite like this involves a very sophisticated form of control. When we perform a bite, we activate the most powerful muscles in our body: the muscles we use to chew our food. To make a bite so gentle like taking just the chocolate off, we need to coordinate complex muscle activation and brake reflexes in our jaw muscles.

As we are hunters and in ancient times we used to eat mammoths, our jaw muscles generate a huge force. We are programmed to be able to chew anything and if we couldn’t control that force as the food brakes in our teeth, we would have to pay a lot more money to dentists.

According to Johansson’s thesis the force you need to break a peanut is 4 Kg (for your front teeth). Just imagine what would happen if we did not hit the brakes on the bite force as the peanut is shattered to pieces. Our teeth would collide and there would be some certain injuries. Now imagine what would happen when you are trying to chew something even harder like meet or certain vegetables. It’s not a pretty picture right?

The force we use to bite is controlled by our brain that gets its information from external sensors. The process is simple: the brain gets information from sensors like eyes, skin, ears, and is able to assess the type and force of the bite based on texture, weight and size of food. If the food is small and appears soft, the brain knows that it needs to activate the brakes faster. If the food has many thick layers (like a sandwich) the brain knows that the bite needs more force and it activates the brakes later allowing the muscles to apply enough force to go through all layers.

I am sure that at least once in a lifetime it happened to misinterpret the type of food you were trying to take a bite of and ended up using less or too much force, according to the situation. The experience was almost certain unpleasant for you and your teeth. If the bite is too strong you meet your upper teeth with your lower teeth and you get a nasty pain (or worst) and if the bite is too soft you can’t finish it. This usually happens because the brain does not understand the texture, size and weight of the food correctly. Modern food can be misleading for our brain who is still adapting to our new lifestyle.

The main conclusion is that, even if we don’t realize our muscles’ force and the fact that mechanisms that control them are extremely sophisticated, our brain does an amazing job controlling all these processes. It would be extremely extenuating to have to think about what force you need to apply on every bite you make.

The study that was performed for Johansson’s this thesis and results that derive from it are very useful in improving knowledge on problems connected to mastication and biting force.