Just a Pinch

Dentist fraidycats. .. unite!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

We all tolerate pain differently. A prick for one person could be a stab for others. How can doctors know how much pain you are ACTUALLY feeling?

Sure, they could just ask you. But Andrew Furman at the University of Maryland, Baltimore and colleagues wanted PROOF. So they decided to ask the BRAIN! 

Sixty-one volunteers’ brain activities were recorded while they sat quietly – pain-free. Then, the researchers strapped a hot thumbprint-sized square to participants’ forearms. Yowza! The subjects rated their pain on a scale of zero to ten. Same temperature, different pain ratings. Next, brain activities were compared between those with higher and lower ratings.

Results? Researchers saw a brain wave that moves FASTER in more sensitive subjects. They could predict the most sensitive volunteers by just looking for the brain waving the white flag. 

Using less painful procedures on more sensitive patients could help them avoid developing chronic pain. And fear of medical procedures.

But that lollipop in the dentist’s drawer? Still a classic. 


Furman, A. J., Prokhorenko, M., Keaser, M. L., Zhang, J., Chen, S., Mazaheri, A., & Seminowicz, D. A. (2020). Sensorimotor peak alpha frequency is a reliable biomarker of prolonged pain sensitivity. Cerebral Cortex. https://doi.org/10.1093/cercor/bhaa124