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How to Avoid Gagging at the Dentist

By Dr. Scott Frey

Dental AppointmentFor some people, a hyperactive gag reflex can be a real problem at the dentist’s office (or orthodontist - like we are). Although other dental procedures can trigger gagging, it is mostly an issue when your doctor needs to take those goopy impressions of your teeth for appliances, crowns, etc.  

At our office we are fortunate enough to have at our disposal an intraoral scanner that allows us to digitally capture teeth for Invisalign, study models, and lots of appliances so we don’t have to subject our patients to the inconvenience of taking impressions; however, not everyone out there has access to one of these special scanners (in fact we were the first orthodontist in the Lehigh Valley to have one).

Tips to Avoid Gagging

In the event that you may need an impression taken at the dentist or orthodontist and are concerned about gagging, here are a few different approaches you or your dentist can try to keep your gag reflex under control:

  • Salt on the back 1/3 of the tongue. The nerves responsible for gagging and the nerves that provide taste to the back of the tongue are the same (glossopharyngeal nerve for those who are interested), and providing alternative stimuli to that nerve will often decrease the likelihood of you gagging. This really only works if something quick is being done.
     
  • Wiggling your toes, breathing through your nose, lifting your legs, squeezing your thumb, etc. This helps you focus on something else and keeps your mind off weird sensations that might cause gagging.
     
  • Chloroseptic spray to the back of the throat or rinsing with an anesthetic rinse prior to a procedure.  Many people may gag because of unexpected or strange sensations towards the back of the mouth during a procedure; numbing these areas can help sometimes.
     
  • Hypnosis. As weird as it sounds, this can work well and some dentists are actually trained in hypnosis.
     
  • Mild Sedation (i.e. putting you out or at least giving you an anxiolytic).  Gagging can be psychological more than anything, and being sedated or at least in a more relaxed state is one solution. Pharmacologic solutions really reserved for people with significant anxiety about going to the dentist so talk to your doctor.

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