Monday, January 21, 2002
Device may help relieve migraines
By Andrea Lanthier, Ottawa
FOR AN agonizing 25 years,
Debbie Rodier felt as though her life was being held captive by migraines.
Halos, nausea and debilitating
pain were almost an everyday occurrence for the 43-year-old doctor's administrator,
who suffered chronic migraines at least five times a week.
The most severe episodes
lasted up to a month -- 24 hours of constant migraine or post-migraine
"You almost carry a fake
facade with people of 'oh yeah, I'm great, how are you?' as you are pale
as anything and you are thinking 'am I going to throw up?' " Rodier says.
"You have to live with it because you have no choice.
You're are hurting all the
time. It's almost like you're functioning but you're not living."
Up until last October, Rodier
was among more than 3 million migraine sufferers in Canada. She never imagined
her salvation would come in the dentist's chair. Rodier is one of
dozens of Ottawa residents trying out the NTI Tension
Suppression System, a small
mouthpiece designed to relieve migraines and tension headaches.
The NTI is an inch-wide
mouthpiece that sits between the two upper and lower front teeth. It's
designed to limit grinding and clenching by preventing the molar and canine
teeth from touching, therefore relaxing tense muscles in
the jaw and face.
Invented in 1989 by American
headache sufferer and doctor James Boyd, the NTI received clearance from
the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a device to treat migraines and
tension headaches in June.
The creators of NTI claim
82% of migraine and headache sufferers who use the device experience an
average 77% reduction of pain within two months.
Rodier doesn't doubt these
"I'm pain-free and drug-free,"
she says. "I haven't had a migraine since I started using it."
Rodier was among several
patients recruited by local dentist Michael Pilon. Pilon is among
about four dentists in the region using the device for patients.
"This may be extreme but
I think this is almost Nobel Prize material," says Pilon, who came across
the device while on a dentist's Internet chat room. "I've had a lot of
fun working with it, seeing people get off drugs is very exciting."
Pilon says he has used various
mouthguards in the past and was initially doubtful of the invention. It
wasn't until the device earned the seal of approval from the FDA that he
started paying attention. As the statistics claim, Pilon has
also seen a remarkable improvement in the 20 patients he has fitted with
the device. The veteran dentist says the
only patient whose treatment
didn't offer some form of comfort never returned for a mandatory adjustment
two weeks after the initial fitting.
The clear device is formed
to fit the individual's mouth and designed to be worn at night. Chronic
nighttime clenchers, even those who don't know they clench, clench 14 times
harder while sleeping than during the day, Pilon
says. The habit tenses muscles
throughout the jaw and temple, causing spasms or cramps.
By preventing clenching and
relaxing the muscles, the device "melts away" tension headaches and migraines.
Despite glowing reviews,
the NTI isn't without critics. The principal theory of migraines, which
states that expanding and retracting blood arteries trigger pain sensors
in the brain, doesn't necessarily support the NTI as a possible cure.
Local neurologist Dr. Robert
Nelson of the Ottawa Hospital says the device has its merits but shouldn't
be hailed as a cure.
"A fair percentage of people
with migraines tend to be tooth-clenchers," says Nelson, who says muscle
tension in the face and scalp can trigger migraines. "Anything you can
do to reduce migraine triggers helps. I always tell people
to reduce alcohol, caffeine
and cola. (The NTI) isn't a cure but it's one more thing we can do to limit
frequency of migraines."
Nelson says the encouraging
statistics offered by the company, which state more than two-thirds of
patients benefit from the device, should be taken with caution.
He says only those who show
signs of grinding, like worn-down teeth and facial tension, will likely
benefit from the treatment.
"I don't think if you give
the device to 1,000 people, all 1,000 will benefit," he says. "I think
I will continue to refer people but I don't think I will refer everybody
who has migraines."
The device costs about $600,
but is covered by many insurance companies. Pilon says he only treats
patients who have been diagnosed with migraines, in case there are other
medical factors involved.
For patients who can benefit
from the mouthpiece, the NTI can be a life-changing experience, Rodier
"Because of the fact I'm
pain-free, I have more energy now. When you are constantly in pain, you
just don't have energy to do anything because your body is trying to deal
with pain," she says.
Rodier, whose migraines are
so common she also wears a specially designed daytime NTI, has become one
of the device's biggest advocates. Fellow family members who suffer from
the same affliction are already lining up at Pilon's door, ready to be
fitted with the device.
"I highly recommend it. It
does work," she says. "As far as I'm concerned, it's a miracle."