A couple of months ago, I wrote an extensive blog post about my experiences as a general dentist treating redheads. I called it Redhead Dread to suggest that redheads dread going to the dentist. The post was based upon research which found that individuals with red hair required more local anesthesia than non-redheads. A natural conclusion from that research was that redheads would avoid dental care and/or be fearful of the dentist because of a greater likelihood of a past, painful experience in the dental chair.
A research paper released just last month by the Journal of Endodontics detailed the findings of a well designed study which looked at the effects of dental local anesthesia on women with red hair. This study had a control group of women with dark hair in order to observe the differences. Some of the findings were surprising. Key conclusions were:
- In standard injections for the lower teeth using lidocaine (not novocaine), there was no difference in the success of the local anesthesia between redheads and dark haired females.
- Redheads felt more pain on needle insertion than dark haired females.
- Redheads experienced “significantly higher levels of dental anxiety” when compared to dark haired females.
Considerations for Dental Patients
The first conclusion stunned me, as it contradicted both previous research as well as my own experiences treating dozens of redheads over the past several years. This was a well designed study but there was a relatively small number of study subjects. Could the small number of participants explain the unexpected response? Possibly. But I am not going to doubt or second guess the authors. Nevertheless, a follow-up study with more participants would be beneficial.
In my own observations as a general dentist, conclusions 2 and 3 are closely linked and were expected. The anticipation of pain can make anyone, regardless of hair color, either amplify a minor pain stimulus into a very painful one, or create a perception of pain when no pain should have occurred. Stated another way, an expectation of pain can create pain out of nowhere!
Because the first conclusion was a surprise, I do expect there will be additional research on this topic, which I will write about. Until then, we can conclude:
Redheads will have greater anxiety when it comes to receiving dental care. If you are a redhead, don’t be afraid to tell your dentist about any fears you may have!