Avoiding Dentistry Due to a Sensitive Gag Reflex

Everyone has a natural gag reflex built into the body’s system that is designed to prevent choking when an unusually large or harmful object touches the roof of your mouth, back of your tongue, or soft tissues in your throat. However, it is estimated that around 15% of people have a hyperactive gag reflex that can be triggered from physical factors, mental factors, or a combination of both. Basic everyday tasks, such as brushing your teeth, eating, swallowing pills, and even visiting the dentist can become painstakingly difficult, and in some cases, even impossible.

If you find yourself avoiding the dentist due to a sensitive gag reflex, many dentists provide oral conscious sedation to help relax your mind and the muscles in the back of your throat to achieve the care you need.

To learn more, read on, or contact Fresno Dental Studio online or by calling 559-297-1294 to schedule your consultation.

Causes of Hyperactive Gag Reflex

A sensitive gag reflex is often a learned behavior, triggered by a previous negative experience. It could be that you had difficulty transitioning from liquids to sold foods as a child, or it developed as a result of a former dental experience that involved dental instruments, x-rays, or putty impression touching the back of your throat. Although the exact cause of hyperactive gag reflex varies from person to person, common causes include:

  • Dental anxiety and fear
  • Traumatic choking experience
  • Stress
  • Aversion to certain textures and objects

Ways to Control Your Gag Reflex

Below are common tips to help overcome a sensitive gag reflex:

  • Desensitization Methods: When brushing your teeth, if you start to gag, try brushing the area in the back of your throat for 10 seconds while focusing on breathing through your nose. When repeated, over time this has proven to reverse a sensitive gag reflex.
  • Breath: When sitting in the dental chair, focus on taking deep breaths through your nose to help calm your mind and prevent your gag reflex from triggering. If you have difficulty breathing through your nose, use a nasal spray, strip, or decongestant beforehand to help clear your nasal passageways.
  • Distract Yourself: Listening to music, watching TV, or holding a stress ball can help redirect your focus and calm your thoughts.
  • Sit Up: Request that the dentist keep your chair at a higher position in order to prevent the muscles in the back of your throat from relaxing too much and blocking your passageway.
  • Talk to Your Dentist: Visit with your dentist before undergoing any procedures so they recommend ways to help make your treatment more comfortable. If dental anxiety and phobia are known triggers, oral conscious sedation is a proven method for treating a sensitive gag reflex. The dentist can provide prescription medication, such as Valium or Halcion in advance to help calm your nerves and relax the muscles in the back of your throat.

Want to Know More?

To learn more about the tools and techniques we provide to help our patients with sensitive gag reflexes, contact our Fresno, CA dental practice today via email, or call 559-297-1294.

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