Migraine is a complex disease, and researchers have not yet identified all of its causes or triggers. However, one recent study suggests periodontal disease as a possible comorbidity or risk factor for developing migraine.
Some researchers believe chronic inflammation in the mouth could impact migraine onset, and a recent study examined whether periodontal (gum) disease and migraine may be linked for this reason. While research in this area is still in the early stages, identifying periodontal disease as a risk factor for migraine could benefit millions of people and drive the development of new therapies.
Dr. Mei-Hsuan Lee, Distinguished Professor of Institute of Clinical Medicine and Associate Dean of the Office of Research and Development, National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University, conducted a study of one sample population in Taiwan investigating the relationship between periodontal disease and migraine. Below, she discusses her findings and explains how the body’s inflammation responses—like that of periodontal disease—may be associated with migraine.
The Link Between Periodontal Disease and Migraine
Dr. Lee had just completed a project with a neurology colleague when they stumbled upon an intriguing study about migraine. “One group in Spain found a possible link between periodontal disease and migraine,” she says. “So we [were interested in] conducting a similar study in Taiwan to investigate further.”
Periodontal disease occurs when infections and inflammation affect the tissues and bone supporting the teeth. In its early stages, the gums may become swollen and red. If left untreated, the condition can lead to gum shrinkage and even teeth loss.
Because some dental problems have been known to cause headaches, Dr. Lee wondered if there might be a connection between periodontal disease and migraine. She found previous research investigating whether the specific microorganisms that make up the microbiome of the mouth and gums (referred to collectively as “microbiota”) may play a role in migraine.
“Periodontal disease is a clear marker within the oral microbiome, so we chose to examine it [in a community-based study],” she explains. “Could the presence of periodontal disease be associated with migraine?”
How prevalent is migraine among those with periodontal disease?
Dr. Lee’s study gathered data from 66,109 individuals aged 30 to 70 years old in the Taiwan Biobank, a collection of biological samples and health information. Among the sample pool, 4,618 people had a pre-existing diagnosis of migraine. The other 61,491 participants served as non-migraine controls for comparison. From there, Dr. Lee’s team charted the prevalence of periodontal disease among both the sample pool and the control group.
They found that 94% (4,324/4,618) of those with migraine also had periodontal disease, compared to 91% (56,036/61,491) of those without migraine who had periodontal disease. This higher prevalence of periodontal disease among those with migraine suggests that this is an area worthy of additional research.
“Periodontal disease is essentially chronic inflammation in your mouth,” Dr. Lee says. “[There is reason to believe that] this sort of chronic inflammation may initiate migraine onset.” While these results are not conclusive, they do offer a promising place to look for additional migraine risk factors.
“We still have a long way to go. In many years of research, we have only verified a few strong migraine risk factors: genetics, gender and age,” Dr. Lee says. “This is why researchers uncovering more verifiable risk factors is crucial—because they could help develop methods to prevent migraine onset.”
Gum Disease as a Possible New Migraine Risk Factor
Dr. Lee cautions against declaring periodontal disease to be a migraine trigger or risk factor based only on the results of this study. More research will be needed to determine how periodontal disease and migraine are related.
Additionally, this study was conducted on a very limited sample population using pre-collected data. “The participants are all from an Asian population,” Dr. Lee says. “[Important factors like] lifestyle differences may be different from that of a Western population.”
The other important aspect of this study is that it was designed to identify a possible connection between migraine and periodontal disease, not to determine the nature of the connection itself. Now that this connection has been made, future research can explore what biological mechanisms, if any, are involved in periodontal disease that might affect migraine.
“This study may provide a clue for how chronic migraine functions,” Dr. Lee says. “If we dig into it more, we may be able to find some new therapies for migraine.”
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