dave-mittlemanIf you are a redhead you can anticipate needing larger doses of anesthesia than someone with a different hair color. My daughter Hannah, who was born with beautiful red hair, knows this all too well as she recently needed 6 shots of anesthesia as opposed to just 2 shots for a routine filling.

The growing body of research that has prompted this shift in anesthesia dosage to redheads also reveals that redheads are often resistant to pain blockers like novocaine. A mutation in a gene that affects hair color apparently is the culprit behind a redhead’s sensitivity to pain. The mutation changes the hair color and skin complexion, but also changes the body’s sensitivity to pain. On average, a redhead will require 20 percent more general anesthesia than people with dark hair or blond coloring.

Unfortunately, this has led to a situation where redheads dread going to the dentist, to the extent that they are twice as likely to avoid dental care than people with other hair coloring. What started out as an urban myth about redheads being difficult to anesthetize has become scientifically validated as fact, reports Dr. Daniel I. Sessler, an anesthesiologist and chairman of the department of outcomes research at the Cleveland Clinic.

Dr. Sessler advises redheads to talk to their dentists and doctors in advance to undergoing a procedure so the medical professional can assess whether their patient is resistant to anesthetics. It may be a situation where they will require more localized anesthetic to deal with the procedure.