Let’s say you wisely brush your tongue after tooth brushing. Good for you! This dislodges millions of oral bacteria from the tongue, helping to keep the bacteria in your mouth to a manageable level for the day. If you regularly brush your tongue, however, you’re aware of the fine line between what is comfortable and what creates a gagging sensation.
Gagging is actually a protective reflex that occurs to prevent foreign bodies from entering the trachea. While gagging is a common response, over thirty percent of otherwise healthy adults have an abnormal gag reflex.
If you have a more severe gag reflex than normal, you may have difficulty when a dental impression is taken, for example. For adults with an active gag reflex, just the thought of certain dental procedures creates such dread that they avoid dental procedures that may trigger the response.
We encourage new patients with a severe gag reflex to discuss this prior to any treatment. We will explain ways that can help minimize the response and make procedures more comfortable. If you are one who has avoided regular dental care or necessary procedures due to the dread of gagging, we’ve also provided some tips below to help reduce the severity of your gagging reflex.
• Drooling may be helpful.
Saliva in your mouth is a good thing! It’s healthy. Think of drool as nothing more than saliva that gets past the lips. Remember, you are in the care of dental professionals. Drool is not something that bothers us! If drooling helps you relax and eases the urge to gag, drool away! Although you may feel embarrassed about drooling, we’ll help keep you comfy with suction and dabbing with tissues as needed.
• Transfer your breathing to your nose.
Breathing through your nose can do two things: (1) It can take your mind off your potential to gag by shifting your focus elsewhere. Count your breaths for added distraction. (2) Nose breathing can aid in your ability to relax. Concentrate on taking nice, deep breaths in and out. Relax your jaw muscles and imagine the stress of the day melting away with each breath.
• Occupy your mind elsewhere.
Ask for headphones so you can listen to your favorite tunes and sing along in your head. Think about a grocery list and imagine yourself shopping for these items. Count from 100 backwards. Go through the year and try to recall the birthdays and special dates in each month. The goal is to take your focus away from what’s going on in your mouth.
• Ask about sedation options.
While we hope to create such a relaxing experience that eliminates your need for sedation, severe gaggers may prefer this added relaxation. Options include nitrous oxide (laughing gas) or oral sedation. Oral sedation is in pill form and has a quick recovery. We also offer I.V. sedation (known as twilight sleep), which provides a deeper level of sedation. This sedation level is typically not necessary for even severe daggers, but it is available if the patient chooses.
• Ask for a break.
We realize it’s common to feel ‘stuck’ in a position in a dental chair during some lengthy procedures. We want you to be comfortable and encourage you to ask for a break if you feel you are tensing up. We’ll sit you upright so you can move your head and neck muscles around. This will also shift saliva and anything in your mouth forward so you are not as anxious about what may cause you to gag.
Just remember, gagging is not a rare occurrence in a dental office. It is a fairly common problem for some patients and we are accustomed to helping those with this problem. If gagging has prevented you from having the dental care you want or need, let’s begin by discussing ways we can address this during a free consultation. From there, you can determine how you’d like to proceed.
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