Feeling stressed. Frustrated handsome young man touching his head and keeping eyes closed while sitting on the couch at home

Oral Microbiome: Can Not Brushing Teeth Cause Headaches?

While dentists often refer to the mouth as the gateway to the entire body, it can be quite shocking to some that current research has discovered that your oral microbiome may have quite a bit to do with your susceptibility to migraine headaches. What may be even further perplexing is that while your oral microbiome has been found to contribute to the occurrence of headaches, it’s not only the bacteria in your mouth that can cause you migraines.

What Does the Oral Microbiome Have to Do with Headaches?

Your oral microbiota, or rather the bacteria that lives and thrives in your mouth is varied and as beneficial as it is harmful. We brush our teeth twice daily to remove the bacteria that builds up and causes plaque, tartar, and can eventually lead to gum disease. Yet, researchers at the University of California San Diego School Of Medicine have found that there are some bacteria in your mouth that can reduce nitrates and may also be the cause of migraine headaches in some individuals.

Bacteria in the mouth have many jobs, their job first and foremost is to breakdown the food we eat to make it digestible for the rest of our bodies. However some of the bacteria in our bodies are responsible for “breaking” nitrates out of the foods we eat. And for some people the consumption of nitrates seems to directly cause a migraine headache. This is because in the bloodstream nitrates can be converted into nitric oxide, and nitric oxide can cause migraines in many individuals.

The researchers wanted to understand this link, and wondered if the bacteria in the mouth had any effect on the nitrates that were consumed, and if the effect triggered migraine headaches in the subjects. To conduct this research the scientists gathered both oral and fecal samples from more than 172 individuals who participated in a crowdfunded citizen science effort called the American Gut Project. These participants also filled out surveys where they noted whether or not they suffered from migraine headaches. They sequenced the the bacteria and found that the bacteria in the samples of those who suffered from migraines were different from those who had no migraines. What was more interesting though was that the reason they differed was because the bacteria in the migraine sufferers had an increased amount of genes that break down nitrates into nitric oxide and nitric oxide-related enzymes.

Now that researchers know that nitrate-reducing bacteria is found in the mouth they will be able to do more research to find out if these bacteria can also cause migraines, or their role in the development of these severe headaches. A more exciting part about this study however is that nitrates, and nitric oxide are also extremely beneficial for cardiovascular health. Understanding these bacteria could, possibly, help doctors find ways to better administer drugs that could save patient’s lives.

Other Oral Causes of Headaches

Nitrates and the bacteria that break them down aren’t the only way that the mouth has been known to cause headaches. The gateway to the body is also very responsible for causing  migraines in some people for a very different reason. Migraines can be caused by bruxism and clenching teeth while sleeping. The pressure put on the jaw for prolonged periods of time can cause the muscles of the face to become stressed. This can also cause migraines for some people. Thankfully these can be easily treated by the use of a custom-fit night guard.

The difference between a nitrate-induced migraines and bruxism-induced migraines is very different. One is a chemical response where the other is a physical response to stress. It is amazing that scientists have found that the oral microbiome may be responsible for migraines in some individuals. This new research may help doctors treat severe headaches, and make major leaps in cardiovascular health. Unfortunately this research gives no current cures for migraines caused by nitrates. Avoiding these foods, such as chocolate and wine, is your first line of defense. However, if you suffer from migraines and believe that bruxism is the culprit, give our Melbourne, Florida dental office a call today. If tooth clenching is causing you pain, we can make you a custom night guard for you at your next visit.