If you have a sensitive gag reflex, going to the dentist can be especially intimidating. Most everyone has a gag reflex; it is natural reaction when something comes in contact with the soft palate at the back of your mouth. Your body responds with a “gag” when the glossopharyngeal nerve fibers (located behind the nasal cavity) are irritated by an object. The brain signals the body to react in an effort to regurgitate the object and prevent choking.
Some people, however, have a pharyngeal reflex that is more sensitive than others. They may gag as a physiological or psychological response when an object is merely introduced into the mouth. This becomes problematic in the dental chair.
Rest assured that just because you have a sensitive gag reflex, doesn’t mean you can’t receive traditional dental care. There are many ways to alleviate your gag response and ensure you have a positive and comfortable dental experience.
Here are a few ways to handle a sensitive gag reflex at the dentist:
- Breathe through your nose. Trying to relax and focus on breathing through your nose can take the mind away from the mouth and reduce the likelihood of a psychological gag reflex.
- Take a nasal decongestant or use a throat spray. By opening up the nasal passages, you are less likely to feel obstructed when trying to breathe through you mouth. Throat sprays can also be used to numb the back of your throat so that your reflex nerves are less sensitive.
- Stay distracted. Some patients opt to listen to music or watch TV while we perform their dental treatments. This keeps them focused on other things besides what is going on in their mouth.
- Schedule your appointment in the afternoon. Studies suggest that your gag reflex is often stronger in the morning hours.
- Watch your posture. Some patients feel that sitting up straighter can help them control their gag reflex better. We can always adjust your dental chair to your comfort level.
- Try folding your left thumb into the palm of your hand, then making a fist and squeezing your left thumb. A recent study proves this helps with gag reflex!
- Ask for sedation dentistry! If your gag reflex is just too sensitive to be remedied with the above tactics, don’t be afraid to request sedation dentistry. Countless patients opt for nitrous oxide or oral conscious sedation to help them get through their dental visit.
If the thought of a dental probe on your tongue makes you want to throw up (literally), we want to know. A sensitive gag reflex is quite common in both children and adults and it is nothing to be ashamed about. We are equipped to create a comfortable dental visit for you despite your struggles with gagging.
Posted on behalf of Dr. Paul Gilreath IV,