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Munster, Germany (dpa) - Around 20 per cent of all Germans grind their teeth, irritating their partners at night and damaging their own health.
The cause of this unconscious nocturnal habit of clenching the teeth and grinding is usually stress.
Stephan Doering, a professor at the University clinic in Munster, who has studied the phenomenon, says that the results are damage to the teeth, to the joints of the jaw and to the muscles.
The usual method of treatment has been to get the patient to insert a mould made of synthetic materials in the mouth before going to sleep, but the condition is now also receiving attention from psychiatrists.
"The moulds merely treat the consequences of teeth grinding," as Doering says.
The new biofeedback treatment aims to treat the causes. The patient is fitted with small electrodes over the chewing muscles in the cheeks, while a monitor attached to a computer measures muscle tension.
"With the aid of the monitor readings, the patient can learn how to reduce the tension with specific relaxation exercises," says Doering, who has trained as a psychiatrist.
Doering believes that there are many factors behind the stress that leads to teeth grinding.
"It could be problems years earlier with the parents, anxieties or depression," he says.
Most of the patients experience stress in their daily lives, either from their jobs or within their relationships, and Doering finds that in a large number of cases relaxation exercises can treat the condition effectively.
Teeth grinders can be identified through the worn down sides of the tops of their teeth.
The front canines and elevated parts of the molars are ground down, making the teeth sensitive to hot and cold and more susceptible to attack by caries.
Often discomfort in the jaw muscles is the reason a patient goes to the doctor - along with complaints from their partner who is unable to sleep as a result of the nocturnal grinding next to them in bed.
Copyright 2005 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH