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News / August 10, 2009

Redheads more susceptible to dental pain

by Guy Hiscott

People with red hair are likely to be less receptive to anaesthesia, so that without additional sedation they face significantly more pain during their procedure, according to a study published in this month’s issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association.

The same research has also found redheads to be more likely to suffer from dental phobia as a direct result of the increased pain they experience during treatment.

‘Redheads are more sensitive to pain than people with other hair colours and will thus experience more discomfort during painful procedures,’ said Cleveland Clinic anaesthesiologist Dr Daniel Sessler, who led the study. ‘This can lead to dental care-related anxiety and dental care avoidance.’

Red hair colour is caused by variants of the melanocortin-1 receptor (MC1R) gene. The authors tested the hypothesis that having natural red hair colour, a MC1R gene variant or both could predict a patient experiencing dental care-related anxiety and dental care avoidance.

The authors enrolled 144 participants (67 natural red-haired and 77 dark-haired) aged 18 to 41 years in a cross-sectional observational study. Participants completed validated survey instruments designed to measure general and dental care–specific anxiety, fear of dental pain and previous dental care avoidance. The authors genotyped participants’ blood samples to detect variants associated with natural red hair colour.

Eighty-five participants had MC1R gene variants (65 of the 67 red-haired participants and 20 of the 77 dark-haired participants). Participants with MC1R gene variants reported significantly more dental care–related anxiety and fear of dental pain than those participants with no MC1R gene variants.

The authors concluded that while dentists should evaluate all patients for dental care–related anxiety, they should be especially aware of the potential genetic predisposition of natural redheads and use appropriate modalities to manage the patients’ anxiety and pain.