RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Redheads may be stereotyped as having fiery tempers, but those tempers may turn to fear and loathing when they walk through the door of a dentist’s office, according to research published in the Journal of the American Dental Association. The study shows that people with a specific gene that often occurs in redheads tend to experience heightened anxiety when they pop in for a regular teeth cleaning.
THE DETAILS: The study’s authors recruited 144 people for the study, 67 of whom were natural redheads, and 77 who were dark-haired. The participants answered survey questions about any fears or anxieties related to dental visits, and the researchers took blood samples that they later tested for specific gene variants common in people with red hair. People with one specific gene, MC1R, were more than twice as likely to report that they avoided dental appointments because of fear and anxiety than people without that gene. Of the 85 people in the study with MC1R, 65 were redheads.
WHAT IT MEANS: It’s possible, say the researchers, that redheads with the gene in question tend to be resistant to certain pain medications. This could mean redheads are more prone than most to experience a difficult dental visit, affecting their expectations about future appointments. Redheaded or not, most of us have probably had reservations about going to the dentist at some point in our lives. But don’t let fear prevent you from getting your twice-yearly checkups. Recent studies have linked periodontal disease to a wide variety of chronic diseases, including heart disease, strokes, and type 2 diabetes. If it’s been a while since you’ve visited the dentist, you might be pleasantly surprised at the experience. “Things don’t hurt anymore,” says Kimberly A. Harms, DDS, consumer advisor for the American Dental Association. Anesthesia has become much more effective, she says, and patients don’t have to experience the pain that used to be common in dental procedures.
Here are some ways to ease angst about the dentist’s office:
• Know if you’re an early bird or a late riser. Schedule your appointments during the time of day that’s best for you, recommends Dr. Harms. “Come in the morning if you’re a morning person, or late in the afternoon if you’re an evening person,” she says. You’ll be in a better mood and better frame of mind.
• Prepare the night before. “Get a good night’s sleep,” Dr. Harms adds. If you have trouble sleeping the night before a visit, she suggests calling your dentist’s office and asking if they can provide you with a sleep aid.
• Talk, lots. Make a list of what it is that bothers you about going to the dentist, whether it’s fear of painful procedures or lack of control over what’s going on, and talk about it with your dentist. “The most important thing you can do is communicate with everyone, right from the beginning,” says Dr. Harms. “A lot of people come in with anxiety and fears, and they’re embarrassed,” she says, “but we do this all the time and we understand.” Dr. Harms also suggests developing signals, such as raising your hand, between you and your dentist, in the event that you do start to feel pain or discomfort.
• Distract yourself. Dentists offices are getting decidedly high-tech these days, providing patients with headphones, MP3 players, and even virtual-reality goggles that distract patients while they’re in a chair. Dr. Harms says her office provides goggles that play movies for patients, which are especially helpful for lengthy procedures like root canals. If your dentist prefers a low-tech atmosphere, bring your own headphones and music. It will help drown out unpleasant sounds like drills, suction tubes, and anything else that can raise your blood pressure.