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.