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Monday, January 21, 2002


Device may help relieve migraines
By Andrea Lanthier, Ottawa Sun

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 pain.

"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 high expectations.

"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 says.

"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."


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