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The Dreaded Gag Reflex

October 25, 2015
Posted By: Frank Finazzo, DDS
Family Dentist in Fontana | Child Brushing Teeth

A dental appointment with a patient who gags can be a challenge for both the patient and the dentist. The pharyngeal reflex or gag reflex is a reflex contraction often caused by touching the roof of the mouth, the back of the tongue, the area around the tonsils, or the back of the throat. The reflex is a physiologic response intended to prevent something from entering the throat except as part of normal swallowing and therefore helps prevent choking.

For patients with this condition, nearly everything about dentistry is harder. A strong gag reflex can present hurdles to both the patient and dentist. Sometimes, even the normally straightforward task of brushing their teeth at home can be difficult. During my career, I have found several methods that help many of my patients at my dental office WinningSmiles in Fontana, California.

Techniques That Help Combat the Gag Reflex

  1. Numb the soft palate with topical anesthetic. We often use topical ointments to numb the roof of the mouth and this oftentimes allows us to complete impressions and dental work on patients with a heavy gag reflex.
  2. Relaxation techniques often work with gaggers. We use earphones and soothing music to take the patient’s mind off the procedure. Also focusing a patient’s attention (distraction technique) on a television show is effective. We have televisions in all of our treatment rooms.
  3. Laughing Gas (nitrous oxide) is great for allowing patients to relax and take their minds off having objects in their mouths. Laughing gas works by calming patients with a strong gag reflex.
  4. Breathing techniques work well to quell the gag reflex. We recommend slow deep breaths through the nose.
  5. Lifting legs off the chair: Believe it or not, simply lifting your legs slightly off the chair can help prevent gagging during an impression.
  6. Salt on the tip of the tongue: Although I have never tried this before in my office, my colleagues report that putting a small amount of salt on the tip of the tongue works really well to avert gagging.
  7. Sedation dentistry: We recommend that patients who are severe gaggers have most of their dental work done while they are sedated. We can perform most all of their dentistry in one or two visits while they are completely relaxed.

Have You Booked a Cleaning This Year?

Hopefully, these suggestions were helpful. Please do not avoid your most important dental visits if you are a gagger. Modern dental techniques allow all patients to have a comfortable experience. Give us a call today to book a gentle. cleaning

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