Differences in ethnic beliefs about the perceived need for local anesthesia for tooth drilling and childbirth labor were surveyed among Anglo-Americans, Mandarin Chinese, and Scandinavians (89 dentists and 251 patients) matched for age, gender, and occupation. Subjects matched survey questionnaire items selected from previously reported interview results to estimate (a) their beliefs about the possible use of anesthetic for tooth drilling and labor pain compared with other possible remedies and (b) the choice of pain descriptors associated with the use of nonuse of anesthetic, including descriptions of injection pain. Multidimensional scaling, Gamma, and Chi-square statistics as well as odds ratios and Spearman's correlations were employed in the analysis. Seventy-seven percent of American informants reported the use of anesthetics as possible remedies for drilling and 51% reported the use of anesthetics for labor pain compared with 34% that reported the use of anesthetics among Chinese for drilling and 5% for labor pain and 70% among Scandinavians for drilling and 35% for labor pain. Most Americans and Swedes described tooth-drilling sensations as sharp, most Chinese used descriptors such as sharp and "sourish" (suan), and most Danes used words like shooting (jagende). By rank, Americans described labor pain as cramping, sharp, and excruciating, Chinese used words like sharp, intermittent, and horrible, Danes used words like shooting, tiring, and sharp, and Swedes used words like tiring, "good," yet horrible. Preferred pain descriptors for drilling, birth, and injection pains varied significantly by ethnicity. Results corroborated conclusions of a qualitative study about pain beliefs in relation to perceived needs for anesthetic in tooth drilling. Samples used to obtain the results were estimated to approach qualitative representativity for these urban ethnic groups.
This study explored ethnic differences in perceptions of pain and the need for local anesthesia for tooth drilling among age- and gender-matched Anglo-American, Mandarin Chinese, and Scandinavian dentists (n = 129) and adult patients (n = 396) using a systematic qualitative research strategy. Semistructured qualitative interviews determined: (a) the relative frequency of use or nonuse of anesthetic for similarly specified tooth drilling, (b) the reasons for nonuse of anesthetic as reported by dentists about their patients, and (c) the distribution of reasons for not using anesthetic. American dentists (n = 51) reported that about 1% of their adult patients did not use anesthetic compared with 90% among Chinese (n = 31) and 37.5% among Scandinavian dentists (n = 40). Of patients, Americans (n = 112) reported 6% nonuse of anesthetic for tooth drilling compared with 90% of 159 Chinese and 54% of 125 Scandinavians. Reasons among Anglo-Americans and Scandinavians were similar (ranked): the sensation was tolerable, to avoid numb feelings afterwards, and fear of injections. Danish patients were an exception; the fact that they had paid extra and out-of-pocket for anesthetic ranked second. In contrast, Chinese dentists made their decisions not to use anesthetics because they explained drilling as only a suan or "sourish" sensation, whereas injections were described as "painful." It was concluded that ethnic pain beliefs and differences in health-care systems are powerful psychosocial variables that affect pain perception and the perceived need for anesthetic.