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Redheads Need More Dental Anesthesia Than Other Hair Colors - Myth or Fact?

Redhead girl with beautiful smile

There are plenty of myths connected to having red hair: there will eventually be no more redheads left, redheads have fiery tempers, they bring bad luck, and so on.

But there is one belief that may have an element of truth to it.

Anecdotal reports in medicine and dentistry claim that people with red hair are hard to put under with anesthesia. To add to this, many redheads themselves insist that they feel a lot of pain whenever they go to the dental office.

Why has this genetic lore persisted?

Let’s first take a look at why some people are born with red hair.

The “Ginger Gene”

Melanocortin 1 receptor, or MC1R for short, is identified as the gene responsible for determining whether or not someone has red hair. Everyone has this gene, but a mutation in it is what results in fair skin and hair of a coppery hue.

MC1R is a recessive gene. This means that a person has to inherit the mutation from both of their parents in order for it to express itself as red hair.

While only a small percentage of the human population demonstrates this trait, around 30% of humans still carry this mutation and have the potential to pass it on.

So this means that redheads are not a dying breed!

Red Hair and Dental Pain

What does this have to do with dental pain and anesthesia?

The MC1R gene controls more than just hair color. It also contributes to the sensitive pale skin, freckles, and light eye color of someone with red hair. More importantly, MC1R is related to a family of receptors that process pain in the brain.

It’s very possible that the gene causing red hair also makes an individual more sensitive to pain, in general.

Indeed, some studies have shown that redheads notice temperature changes faster than people with darker hair. They also have a harder time enduring very cold temperatures.

This suggests that redheads may have teeth that are also much more sensitive to changing temperatures during a dental procedure.

Other evidence also supports the claims that redheads need more anesthesia than non-redheads to endure pain. Some studies suggest that they need up to 20% more in order to stay comfortable.

That little gene mutation responsible for a unique and beautiful hair color can be a literal pain!

Dental Advice for Redheads

It’s important to note that anesthesia - whether a shot in the gums or general anesthesia for a major surgery - is a tricky art.

Individuals in general vary in terms of how much pain they can endure or how much anesthesia they need. There is no concrete rule determining how much a redhead can and should have.

How much anesthesia you need may depend more on your individual ability and experience than on your hair color. The most important thing is that you feel safe and comfortable when you have dental treatment.

So if you have red hair and dental anxiety is keeping you away from the dentist, it’s time to stop worrying. No matter what the current research may show, you are entitled to requesting care that you’re comfortable with.

You can boost your trust in dentistry by:

  • Talking out your concerns with a compassionate dentist

  • Asking about your treatment and anesthetic options

  • Taking plenty of time to make sure you have sufficient anesthesia kicking in before treatment begins

These steps can help you feel confident about getting the treatment you need.

To meet a caring family dentist in Tacoma, call Dr. Duke Bui at (253) 475-7125, or visit for more information.

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