Is There a Link Between Your Mouth and Migraines?

An October study by scientists at the University of San Diego has discovered a possible link between oral bacteria and migraines. The study explores the connection between the rates of bacteria in the mouths of migraine sufferers to the rates of bacteria in the mouths of individuals who do not suffer from migraines. Specifically, the kind of bacteria in question is the types of bacteria that have the ability to modify nitrates found in food.

The study, published in mSystems, is based on the idea that some foods are the cause of migraines for certain individuals. Trigger foods mostly include chocolate, processed meats, certain green vegetables, wine and some types of cheeses. These foods and others can be high in nitrates. Using the theory of food triggers, researchers at the USD School of Medicine began looking for associations between diet, mouth bacteria levels, and migraines.

Nitrates are naturally occurring chemical compounds that are found in the environment and the body. These compounds are also found naturally in food but are often used as food preservatives. When ingested, certain bacteria in the mouth convert nitrates into nitrites. In the body, nitrates can convert into nitric acid, which can help lower blood pressure and improve certain cardiac conditions. However, when the level of nitrites in the body is too high, migraines develop in many individuals. Further supporting the theory, researchers examined the relationship between patients with cardiac issues who take nitrate-containing medication and their rate of migraines. Many cardiac patients taking these medications report an increase in migraines and headaches as a side effect.

Researchers tested the genetic makeup of the bacteria found in the mouths of their control and test groups and found that on average, the rate of bacteria found in the mouths of patients suffering from migraines was significantly greater in number than those that did not suffer migraines. The bacteria were found to contain enzymes with the ability to convert nitrates to nitrites and nitric oxide, thus raising the number of nitrites in the patient’s body.

Migraines impact over 38 million Americans each year, and cause severe pain, vision loss, nausea and vomiting, and impact the quality of life of sufferers significantly. Migraine patients report a wide range of triggers, including fluorescent lights, noise, changes in weather and barometric pressure and stress. Migraine triggers kick off a physiological response in the body in which the trigeminal nerve becomes stimulated. “The trigeminal nerve is one of five major nerves found in the head, and when stimulated, causes a response of dilating blood vessels in the brain and increasing blood flow pulses through the dilated blood vessels. These pulses are translated as pain by the sphenopalatine ganglion or the SPG,” says Dr. Michael Budler, M.D.

Budler is an interventional radiologist treating patients for migraines at his practice in Grand Island, Nebraska. “We use SPG block therapy to treat migraine patients. This therapy delivers an anesthetic block to the SPG which prevents a pain response.”

The SPG is located in the face, just behind the nasal cavity. Butler uses the technology of the SphenoCath to reach the SPG to deliver the block. The procedure is minimally invasive and performed in the office. The patient is treated with a numbing spray, and when numbed, the SphenoCath is inserted into the nose. Anesthetizing fluid is pushed through the SphenoCath and then drips onto the SPG. “When a patient undergoes SPG therapy, they get relief from migraine pain. The SPG stays blocked from pain for approximately three to four months,” explains Budler.

While the block is temporary, it gives many patients much-needed relief and gives them back their quality of life. “Many patients just live with migraine pain, or endure treatments that don’t really bring relief, or even cause other problems,” says Budler. “The SphenoCath SPG block can bring an end to the pain.”