Is the Gag Reflex Preventing the Dental Treatment You Need?

Tips from the Dentist for the Patient


Going to see a dentist can be a problem for some people because they have a gag reflex that gets in the way. It can sometimes be strong enough that even the thought or sight of a tongue suppressor causes a gag reaction. When this happens, neither the dentist nor the patient can get anything done. Now there are some solutions to this very common problem.


A Natural Problem

Most everyone has a gag reflex, which is also known as the pharyngeal reflex or laryngeal spasm, but some people have almost no gag reflex. It is caused by a natural protective response to objects to prevent them from entering into the larynx, pharynx, or the trachea. Your muscles will naturally spasm to keep objects away.


For some people, doing simple tasks at home can even cause the gag reflex. Brushing teeth may even be difficult. The dentist, of course, has several tasks that are apt to trigger the reflex action, including dental x-rays, cleaning teeth, drilling, putting in fillings, and more. Getting a dental impression is one of the worst causes, and nearly impossible for some people.


Stopping the Gag Reflex

There are several things you can try to get your mind off of the reflex action. Some of these will work well for some people but not as well for others. You will likely need to experiment to see which one helps you the most.


  • Squeeze Your Thumb

One of the most popular ways to do this in a dentist office is a method that many people have found to help them. All you need to do is to simply take your left hand and squeeze your thumb in it. While it can serve as a mental distraction, it may help you relax the next time you are in the dentist chair.


  • Breathe Through Your Nose

Another simple trick that helps some people is to try to breathe through your nose while the dentist is working on you. This distraction can help you focus on something other than the gag reflex in your throat. If you have allergies or are congested, be sure to take a decongestant before you arrive at the office.


  • Use a Stress Ball

Playing with a stress ball while the dentist is completing a dental task can help take your mind off of the feeling in your throat. Keeping it moving can enable you to overcome it enough to permit the dentist to accomplish the goal.


  • Listen to Music

Music is a great relaxer and a distraction. You might even record some of your favorite music on your device and play it at the office.


How the Dentist Can Help

Technology in the dentist's office has greatly improved. Some offices, of course, will not have all the latest technology or gadgets, but some things that may help you relax more may include:


  • Dentist chairs that provide heat – The heat can help you relax and not be tense.


  • Vibrating dentist chairs – This is another option that some dentists have available to reduce your stress and possibly your gag reflex.


  • A topical spray – A dentist has a topical anesthetic spray that can be used to relax the muscles at the back of your throat.


  • Nitrous oxide – This gas is available in many dentist's offices. It will not put you to sleep, but it certainly may help you to overcome the gag reflex. It will relax your throat muscles, too.


  • Sleep dentistry – If your gag reflex cannot be reduced by other means, you can be helped to relax. Oral surgeons can use various means to relax you, including what is often referred to as "sleep dentistry." The dentist can provide you with medication, an IV, or another form to accomplish it.


Desensitize yourself

If all else fails and you still have a sensitive gag reflex, but you still want to overcome it, there are things you can do to desensitize yourself. Start by taking your toothbrush or finger and slowly move it back into your mouth on the back and side of your tongue until you start to feel the gag reflex start.


Then, repeatedly touch that part of your tongue and mouth in those spots and try to stop the reflex. Soon, you will find it getting less and less strong, and you will be able to move your toothbrush or finger back further and further. Although you may not be able to stop gag reflex completely, you certainly can reduce it – enabling the dentist to make your teeth look beautiful again.


If you have problems with the gag reflex, it can be overcome with help from Dr. Kumar T. Vadivel, DDS, FDS RCS, MS, a Board Certified Periodontist. He has various treatments that can help prevent dental gag, enabling dental work to be conducted with ease. His dental offices are in the Carrollton, TX, and Grapevine, TX areas. For a consultation or dental checkup, you can contact his office today at (817) 756-8578.

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