How to Desensitize Your Gag Reflex (7 Solutions)

Overcoming gag reflex at the dentist

What is a Gag Reflex?

A gag reflex occurs when the muscles in the back of your throat resist swallowing. Your body reacts to help prevent you from choking and swallowing things that could be potentially harmful. Gagging while receiving dental treatment is not a pleasant experience. Some people have a very sensitive gag reflex, causing this to become a regular occurrence while in the dental chair. Sometimes the reflex is physiological, while other times it is psychological (a memory of a prior bad experience or a panic that it may become difficult to breathe). Some people’s gag reflex is so strong that it becomes difficult to even brush or floss.

What Causes Gagging?

Your gag reflex can be triggered by a number of different stimuli, including:

  • Touch
  • Taste
  • Sight
  • Smell
  • Sound

A stronger gag reflex can also be associated with a variety of conditions, including:

  • Acid reflux or multiple sclerosis
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Panic
  • Intense physical activity
  • Strong or disagreeable odors
  • Sensitivity oro allergic reaction to certain liquids or foods

How to Overcome Your Gag Reflex at the Dentist

According to a 2014 study, about 50 percent of dental patients say that they gag at least once when visiting the dentist. While it is impossible to completely eliminate a gag reflex, there are measures you or your dentist can take in order to desensitize your gag reflex.

1. Consciously remind yourself to breathe through your nose.

2. To make breathing through the nose easier, take a nasal decongestant before your dental appointment.

3. Use of an over-the-counter numbing throat spray an hour before a dental appointment.

4.  For a strong gag reflex, ask for nitrous oxide or a sedation dentistry appointment.

5. Use of Nucalm natural sedation.

6. Use of an x-ray machine without bite wings if possible (All Smiles Care is equipped with this option! Talk with your hygienist to see if this is a possibility for you.)

7. Most importantly, be open with your dentist and hygienist. Gag reflex is a very common problem in the dental chair, and there are many ways to work around it, such as different placement of instruments, chair adjustments, frequent breaks in treatment, etc.

Try these tips and tricks the next time you are at the dentist to see if they help you get rid of your gag reflex.

About the author

A practicing dentist since 1982, Dr. Gary Imm, provides advanced cosmetic dentistry, including smile makeovers, sedation, implant and TMJ services. He is committed to progressive, extraordinary care for his guests. All Smiles Dental Care trains at least 300 hours each year at such prestigious centers as the Las Vegas Institute of Advanced Dentistry. (LVI)
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