For many people, visiting the dentist can be a source of anxiety, and we always do everything possible to put our patients at ease.
But could having ginger hair make you more sensitive to pain, meaning you need extra anaesthesia during dental treatment or other surgery?
This is a question researchers have been trying to answer for over a decade. A study carried out at the University of Louisville in 2002 found that redheads needed 20% more anaesthetic to prevent reflex reactions to a pain, and this was linked to genetic mutations in the melanocortin 1 receptor, which is involved in the production of endorphins.
Another study in 2009, undertaken by the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, found that redheads were more than twice as likely to avoid visiting the dentist than brunettes and blondes, and this was seen as further evidence of their heightened sensitivity to pain.
But research carried out in the UK and Canada has shown that the opposite may be true.
Those with ginger hair “may well have a reduced sensitivity to pain,” according to Ian Jackson – head of medical and developmental genetics at the Medical Research Council in Edinburgh – who cited evidence that redheads respond better to analgesics (painkillers). His tests were carried out on mice, not humans, but the genetic mutation is the same.
Gordon Watkins – a member of the British Dental Association’s Health and Science Committee – has also argued that some people are simply more anxious than others and “it doesn’t really depend on the colour of their hair.”
With the evidence gathered so far remaining inconclusive, researchers at Southampton University Hospital are carrying out trials this year aimed at establishing whether people with pale skin and red hair need higher doses of anaesthetic than the other patients.
The trials will run until September, with volunteers being anaesthetised and subjected to electrical charges to see how reactions differ between redheads and those with brown or black hair.
If you have red hair, let us know what you think based on your own experience…