Can Hair Color Predict Sensitivity to Dental Pain?

red haired womanCNN reports that those who have red locks are more sensitive to dental pain than all others. Clairol (Natural Instincts) has no data on natural vs. artificial hair color, so it may be safe to assume that the study refers only to natural born redheads.

These findings pertain to dentistry, in that red heads may need more anesthesia to be as numb as the rest of us. Dr. Marks states, that the American Dental Assoc. (ADA) reports, that being anxious about dental treatment causes red heads to be 2 times more hesitant to see their dentist. This applies to both male and female patients. D. Sessler, MD, of the Cleveland Ohio Clinic, one of the researchers, states red heads require more local and general anesthetics. This is why they have a higher rate of not obtaining dental treatment, due to their poor past dental experiences.
Dr. Sessler reported that, colleagues in the medical field, found red heads were not sedated as well as others under all kinds of anesthesia, and had higher levels of pain. Specifically, carrot tops needed 20% greater amounts of anesthesia than all other hair colored people. This included the types of anesthetics given in dental offices.

Why is this so, you ask? Dr. Marks explains that genes play a role. There is a receptor gene that produces melanin, called MC 1R. This is how eye, and hair, and skin color is produced. All hair color people produce this, but carrot toppers have a mutated gene receptor, that makes a different color called pheo melanin (which causes the hair color, skin fairness, and freckles). About five % of Caucasians fall into this category (I have some of these mutants as friends!)…and my mother had red hair! Apparently this gene receptor, in the brain, influences pain perception.

Before you ask, there is no test for this receptor gene. The good news is that not all red heads experience this phenomenon. So if you have pink, or purple, or blue hair, which you use to cover up your real red colored hair, you may want to point this out to your dentist before you have that filling, or root canal, or extraction, or teeth cleaning!

If you have any dental needs, or want a second opinion, please contact us.