Red hair color is caused by variants of the melanocortin-1 receptor (MC1R) gene. People with the MC1R gene variants experience more dental anxiety than do people without the MC1R gene variants. They are also more likely to avoid dental treatment than those without the variants. The MC1R gene that is found in people with red hair is also part of the pathway that processes pain and anxiety. Thus the connection between red hair and fear of dental pain. Local anesthesia is less effective for MC1R redheads, and this lack of effectiveness may lead to increased anxiety for the patient and consequently, dental avoidance.
Approximately 11 – 20% of the population experiences extreme dental care-related anxiety, with another 45% reporting moderate degrees of dental care-related fear. Despite advances in technology to reduce discomfort, these fears persist and prevent people from seeking dental health.
A recent study reported in the July, 2009 Journal of the American Dental Association concluded that the natural red hair color and MC1R gene variants are associated with increased dental care-related anxiety, fear of dental pain and avoidance of dental care. In my Long Island dental office I evaluate all patients for dental care-related anxiety and take appropriate steps to make sure they are comfortable. I’ll now take extra special care with my red-haired patients!