A normal physical reaction, the gag reflex works to keep potentially harmful substances from entering the upper airway and lungs. For the majority of people, this reaction is triggered when specific parts of the mouth are touched, including the roof of the mouth, the back of the throat, and the back of the tongue. With that being said, in certain situations, people may develop an overly-sensitive gag reflex, which can make it almost impossible for them to undergo even minor dental procedures.
Sometimes, a person’s gag reflex can become too sensitive. Typically, unless food induces gagging, hypersensitivity is thought to be a psychological issue, which results from a so-called “learned response.”
How it Causes Problems
When people cannot control their gag reflexes, they may have trouble using dentures or even brushing their teeth. More often, they will have problems when they visit the dentist to receive x-rays, treatments, or impressions.
Most people can learn to better control their sensitive gag reflexes by performing conditioning exercises designed to calm the reflex. Keeping an open mind regarding the effectiveness of relaxation is paramount to success.
- Take slow relaxing breaths through your nose.
- Press your tongue against the roof of your mouth to create a seal.
- Continue this until you can feel comfortable holding this position for several minutes.
- Massage the area of your palate directly behind your front teeth using a toothbrush.
- Practice this at least once daily, moving further toward the back of your throat every day.
When Hypersensitivity Persists
Some people simply cannot relieve their hypersensitivity using conditioning exercises. For these patients, sedation dentistry makes a lot of sense. Typically the dentist will prescribe one or two pills to be taken prior to an appointment. Although the patient remains awake and attentive during the procedure, he or she will have no memory of the experience. Additionally, his or her gag reflex hypersensitivity becomes a non-issue thanks to the sedative medication.
Asking for Help
Gag reflex hypersensitivity isn’t anything to be embarrassed about. If you are worried you won’t be able to control your gag reflex, talk to your dentist. He or she will be able to offer various strategies for coping with the issue, so you can have a more comfortable, stress-free experience.