Reflex changes in masticatory muscles were investigated in naturally behaving rabbits while chewing soft food (bread) and hard food (raw rice). To study peripheral control mechanisms of mastication, reflex changes in masticatory muscles were correlated with the jaw movement trajectories. When the hard food was tested, the closing muscle was activated isometrically and the antagonist activity was evident during closure. Under such conditions, the so-called masseteric inhibitory periods (MIPs) and digastric short bursts (DSBs) were found in the closing phase, which was not the case with soft food. The reflex changes in the masticatory muscles were similar to those in an unloading reflex or in a reflex after tooth tap. Precise comparison of the EMG and the movement orbit showed that DSB with MIP was preceded by a trough in the closing velocity which bottomed at 8 +/- 1 ms (mean +/- S.D.: n = 9) before the DSB onset. These results suggest that the DSB with MIP may be a reflex change generated by periodontal mechanoreceptor stimulation after the upper and lower teeth come together with hard food, which have a role in regulatory mechanisms of mastication when the teeth are suddenly loaded by hard food.