And how this could affect your dental appointments
Could the colour of your hair affect how much you feel pain? There have been a lot of rumours going around about the idea that redheads don’t feel pain as much as other people. This might sound like a ridiculous idea, after all how can hair colour affect your nerves? But there is actually some evidence to support it.
About Red Hair
Red is the rarest hair colour and occurs in less than 2 percent of the world’s population. To have a child with red hair, both parents need to pass on a specific, recessive gene trait. This trait causes mutations in the melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R), which is responsible for producing skin pigment melanin. This gene contributes to eye colour, hair colour, and skin tone, which is why so many redheads have very pale skin.
But the differences that come along with being a redhead may be deeper than the skin. Evidence suggests that there’s also a significant different in how they experience and respond to pain.
More Pain, Less Analgesics
Contrary to general opinion, redheads don’t feel less pain. In fact, the opposite may be true. The MC1R gene which causes red hair also has receptors in the midbrain where pain perception is regulated. And this may indicate that the gene could influence how people respond to pain and injury. Studies that explore this link have found conflicting results. Here are just some of the conclusions of these studies:
To sedate them, you need 20 percent more anaesthesia.
Redheads may be able to tolerate 25 percent more pain than other people.
They need lower doses of pain killing analgesics.
They also need more topical anaesthetics, which explains why many redheads have a fear of dental pain and avoid dentists.
These results are contradictory. They indicate that redheads both feel more pain and less, that they’re more tolerant to pain and feel it more intensely. Further research is needed before the true extent of the link between hair colour and pain tolerance is clear. However, what comes out of these studies is the simple fact that hair colour can indicate a different way of processing and experiencing pain. And this means that dentists need to take an individual approach when managing the pain of dental treatments.
Proactive Pain Management
If you have red hair, then what can you do? Should you just avoid the dentist because you might have trouble coping with the pain? Obviously, this isn’t a helpful strategy and it could lead to more pain and trips to your after hours dentist in the long term. A better idea is to be proactive about pain during your regular dental appointments. Here are some ideas for how to do that:
Make sure that your dentist is aware that you might react different to pain and painkillers than other patients.
If you need anaesthesia for a dental treatment, address the issue before the procedure and let your dentist know that you might need more or be more sensitive to it.
Be wary of taking prescription medications, particularly opioids.