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Redheads Feel More Pain at the Dentist?

Experts Weigh In.

Have you heard you may feel more pain at the dentist because of your natural red hair? Your genetic makeup may be causing you to feel more pain. When the study by the Journal of the American Dental Association broke out in 2012 that redheads experience more pain at the dentist, many rumors began to develop: “Redheads have an extra (third) set of nerves in the mandible, which could explain why going to the dentist hurts more for women with natural red hair,” or “Redheads suffer more from toothaches.”

We wanted to get to the nitty-gritty What is true and what is false?

We spoke with America’s leading dentists to get the real scoop:

Dr. Steven Polevoy from Gentle Touch Dentistry in Harrison, NY.

“For years, dentists have shared stories and anecdotes with each other of redheads requiring double or triple the usual doses, and still feeling pain. While the fact is well-known, very little research has been done on the subject. However, what few studies are available, they confirm that redheads do in fact feel more pain than non-redheads.  In a study, researchers have found that redheads have significantly more anxiety about dentistry than everyone else. In fact, they were twice as likely to avoid dental care, due to a heightened fear of dental pain. Dentists should be made more aware of these issues. While they cannot control how redheads feel, they can do a lot to ease the fear and anxiety their redheaded patients have. Knowing they require more anesthesia, and giving it to them before any treatment begins, can help their patients overcome the anxiety and reduce their dental care avoidance. On the other hand, patients with red hair can inform their dentists of the growing body of evidence that they do, in fact, feel more pain, and are not just being ‘wimpy.’ ”

Dr. Tim Raczka and Maureen Raczka, Alliance Dentistry in Cary, NC.

“Individuals with naturally red hair are often resistant to local anesthetics, so they may definitely feel more pain at the dental office. Researchers believe redheads are more sensitive to pain because of a mutation in a gene that affects hair color. A mutation in the MC1R gene results in red hair and fair skin. This gene belongs to a group of receptors that include pain receptors in the brain, and as a result, a genetic mutation influences the body’s sensitivity to pain. People with the MC1R gene variant have more dental-care related anxiety and fear of dental pain than those without the variant.”

Dr. Kenyon Glor, General and Family Dentist in Wellington, Ohio.

“I must admit, redheads are fiery, perhaps it’s not the nerves at all but the hair! Seriously though, while there are many reasons for the sensitivity, additional nerves are not one of them. The number of nerves, and the paths those nerves travel, to the upper and lower teeth, are the same for all hair colors, natural or not so natural. But I must admit, for natural redheads I always double check the Novocain!

Dr. Priti Naik, General and Family Dentist in Tyson’s Corner (Vienna), VA.

“In my own practice, I haven’t noticed any significant variation in anxiety or resistance to anesthesia in redheads vs. non-redheads.  My advice is to find a dentist that doesn’t make you feel anxious, that has a calming environment, and don’t be afraid to ask for more local anesthesia if you need it!”

The end story seems to be most redheads do feel more pain. Is this the story in your case too? We asked our Twitter audience and here’s what some had to say: