To examine the relationships between masticatory force, electromyogram (EMG) of masticatory muscles, and jaw movement pattern, we quantitatively evaluated the effects of changing hardness of a chewing substance on these three variables. Cortically induced rhythmic jaw movements of a crescent- shaped pattern were induced by electrical stimulation of the cerebral cortical masticatory area in the anesthetized rabbit. The axially directed masticatory force was recorded with a small force-displacement transducer mounted on the ground surface of the lower molars. EMGs were recorded from the masseter and digastric muscles simultaneously with jaw movements. Five test strips of polyurethane foam of different hardness were prepared and inserted between the upper molar and the transducer during the movements. The peak, impulse, and buildup speed of the masticatory force increased with strip hardness, whereas duration of the exerted force did not vary with strip hardness. The integrated activity and duration of the masseteric EMG bursts also increased with strip hardness. The integrated EMG activity of the digastric bursts was weakly related to strip hardness, whereas the duration was not. The minimum gape increased with strip hardness, but the maximum gape did not. The horizontal excursion of the jaw did not vary in a hardness- dependent manner, although it was greater in the cycles with strip application than in the cycles without strip application. Deprivation of periodontal sensation by cutting the nerves to the teeth reduced the buildup speed of the force, maximum gape, net gape, and horizontal jaw movements. The denervation also elongated the force duration and that of masseteric EMG bursts. However, the rate of the hardness-dependent changes in the above parameters did not alter after denervation. The latency of the masseteric EMG response to strip application was evaluated before and after denervation. In both conditions, it was ≤6 ms in ~70% of the cycles and <6 ms in the remaining ~30%, which cannot be explained by a simple reflex mechanism. On the basis of the analysis of correlation coefficients, the masseteric integrated EMG seemed to be a good indicator of the peak and impulse of the masticatory force both before and after denervation. We conclude that periodontal afferents would be responsible for a quick buildup of masticatory force and that afferents other than those from periodontal tissue would contribute to the hardness-dependent change of masticatory force during cortically induced rhythmic jaw movements.
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