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Sedation Sensitivity in Redheads

By Jill Feilmeier on April 18, 2013 in Just for Kicks


If you're a redhead – or a “ginger” as they call you in the United Kingdom – you're probably aware of the many myths about you.

Ancient Greeks believed that when redheads die, they turn into vampires. Romans thought of redheads as lucky charms and were desirable as slaves. During the Spanish Inquisition, Spaniards thought redheads were witches who had stolen the fires of hell and had to be burned at the stake.

Ancient myths aside, researchers have found that redheads actually do have something else in common besides their unique hair color. Research has shown that people with red hair need larger doses of pain medication when they go to the dentist. And that makes them more nervous about dental procedures, according to research published in The Journal of the American Dental Association.

Redheads are more sensitive to pain because of a mutation in a gene that affects hair color, researchers say. In people with brown, black and blond hair, the gene, for the melanocortin-1 receptor, produces melanin. But a mutation in the MC1R gene results in the production of a substance called pheomelanin that results in red hair and fair skin.

The MC1R gene belongs to a family of receptors that include pain receptors in the brain, and as a result, a mutation in the gene appears to influence the body's sensitivity to pain. A 2004 study showed that redheads require, on average, about 20 percent more general anesthesia than people with dark hair or blond coloring. And in 2005, researchers found that redheads are more resistant to the effects of local anesthesia, such as the numbing drugs used by dentists.

So if you are a redhead, don't be afraid to go to the dentist. Just talk to them about the possibility that you might need a little more pain medication than other patients. And be proud of your hair!