Gag Me!

Do you dread going to the dentist because you gag easily? Please know that you are not alone and we understand! For patients with a strong, involuntary gag reflex, nearly everything about dentistry is more challenging.  From taking x-rays, to restorative work like fillings and crowns, to having their teeth cleaned, a strong gag reflex can present a significant obstacle to both patient and dentist in the office.  Even the normally straightforward task of brushing their teeth at home can be difficult.

The gag reflex (also known as a laryngeal spasm) is an involuntary reflex contraction often evoked by touching the roof of the mouth, the back of the tongue, the area around the tonsils, or the back of the throat.  It is intended to prevent something from entering the throat except as part of normal swallowing and therefore helps prevent choking.  A gag reflex is a good safety mechanism for those with “average” reflexes, but what about people on the extreme ends?  Here are some things that may help:

  1. Be sure your nasal passages are clear and take a decongestant beforehand if needed.  Taking a simple over-the-counter Sudafed or Claritin-D one hour prior to an appointment can make a world of difference!
  2. Schedule your appointment appropriately!  Some of our patients report they gag easier in the morning.  If this is true, be sure to schedule your appointment in the late afternoon.
  3. Do something with your body during the appointment to take your mind off gagging.  Holding a squishy stress ball in each hand and alternating squeezes during the appointment is a great technique!  Another great option is to squeeze your left (or right) thumb if you feel a gag coming on.  Some patients like lifting both their ankles slightly off the dental chair and holding them for awhile before relaxing.

Having a strong gag reflex and being unprepared can be a nightmare at the dental office.  We hope that by utilizing the techniques above, you can minimize, or possibly eliminate your severe reflex and have a much more enjoyable dental experience.  As always, if you have any questions or would like to talk further with Smile Sarasota about this topic, please do not hesitate to speak to Dr. Still.