The back of your throat naturally contracts when an object touches your soft palate. This natural contraction is called the gag reflex or pharyngeal reflex, and it prevents you from choking. The gag reflex is useful, but it can be a big problem when it’s overactive. It’s very common for people to fear going to the dentist because they think they’ll vomit once the dentist starts poking in their mouth. Some people’s gag reflex is so active, in fact, that they find it difficult to brush their teeth without puking. Others complain of their gag reflex getting in the way of oral sex. Whatever your reason for wanting to get rid of your gag reflex, the following tips will help you achieve this goal.
Getting Rid of Gag Reflex Through Desensitization
It is possible to get rid of your gag reflex through desensitization, which means training your soft palate to receive objects without gagging. The best time to train your soft palate is when you’re brushing your teeth. Do the following steps while you’re brushing, and get rid of your gag reflex as soon as possible.
- Find out where the gag reflex starts. Use the toothbrush to brush your tongue. Start from the farthest tip of your tongue, then work your way in deeper.
- Once you begin to gag, try to brush that area for about 10 seconds even while you’re gagging. This process is quite unpleasant, but training yourself not to gag naturally involves some gagging. Stop brushing when you feel like you can’t continue any longer; training yourself can’t be done in a day.
- Repeat the process over the next few days, concentrating on the exact same spot. You’ll notice that you gag less each time you repeat it. Stay on the same spot until you can handle most of the gagging or gagging completely stops. That part of your mouth is now desensitized.
- Reach deeper into your mouth using the toothbrush. Try brushing half an inch behind the desensitized spot. Keep moving further back until you’ve reached the farthest area that the brush can reach.
The whole desensitization process should take about a month to complete, so don’t lose hope if nothing improves in the first couple of days. When desensitization is complete, your doctor can swab the back of your throat all he wants, and you won’t gag at all. Remember to repeat the process from time to time because your gag reflex may return if you don’t.
- Don’t start too far back because you’ll only gag pointlessly. This process only works if you do it one tiny step at a time.
- It’s not advisable to do this twice a day because if you vomit your food, then your body won’t be able to digest the nutrients it needs. Do it once either in the morning or before you go to sleep in the evening.
- Don’t breathe through your mouth while you’re brushing; instead, breathe through your nose to avoid triggering the gag reflex.
- You may want to talk to your doctor first before desensitizing your soft palate. This training is also not recommended for children, as they might choke on the toothbrush.
Some tips to make desensitization work:
Tips to Prevent Gagging During Dental Treatment
Even if your gag reflex is not overactive, you may still find yourself gagging when the dentist starts poking in your mouth. There are many ways to control or completely stop your gag reflex during dental treatment. Some of them are the following:
- Concentrate on breathing through your nose: You gag because you’re trying to breathe in air through your mouth while the dentist’s tools are also in there. Breathe through your nose instead of your mouth to keep the right amount of oxygen in your body.
- Lift both of your legs up: For some people, lifting both of their legs up when they feel the gag sensation coming helps to prevent or reduce it.
- Use a nasal decongestant before your appointment: Nasal decongestant keeps your nasal passageways open, promoting easier breathing through the nose.
- Try a throat spray with numbing properties: Two or three sprays of a numbing throat spray should last for about an hour, enough time to survive the trip to the dentist. Many people also claim that snore-relief sprays suppress gag reflex perfectly.
- Use table salt: Putting a pinch of table salt on the tip of the tongue during dental examination to prevent gagging works for many people. This method probably works because your mind concentrates on the taste of the salt rather than on the tools in your mouth.
- Talk to the dentist: Gagging can be caused by psychological factors as much as it is caused by physical factors. Some people gag when they go to the dentist because of fears that the dentist will do something wrong, and they’ll be in pain. They fear that they are not in control of the situation, and so their mind overreacts and encourages the gag reflex to go off.Talking to the dentist about your concerns makes you feel more relaxed during the whole procedure. You can request him to put the tools at the correct angles in your mouth so you won’t gag. You can also ask him to put as few tools as possible in your mouth at one time.
- Desensitize yourself: Gagging is so unpleasant that you may soon start to fear going to the dentist irrationally. Remind yourself of the purpose of dental treatment by reading about the effects of poor dental care. Desensitize yourself by asking your doctor if you can take some of his tools at home, so you can practice putting them in your mouth. Find ways to have positive feelings about your dental visit to reduce your risk of gagging during a dental procedure.
- Try topical lidocaine: You can ask your dentist to put a bit of topical lidocaine on a cotton tip applicator, and apply it on the sides of your tongue to prevent you from gagging. Lidocaine is a dental anesthetic that’s available in different flavors.
- Take a sip of very cold water: Some dentists say that taking a sip of very cold water before a dental procedure helps prevent gagging. There’s no harm done in it, so try this for your next dental visit.
- Listen to music: If it’s OK with your dentist, bring your headphones, and simply listen to music while having a dental procedure. Listening to your favorite music shifts your attention from the tools in your mouth to the music in your ears.
- Sit up rather than lie down: Gagging also sometimes has to do with your position during a dental procedure. If it’s possible to sit up rather than to lie down during the procedure, request it. Some patients also say that standing up helps prevent their gag reflex from going off.
Tips to Prevent Gagging While Brushing Your Teeth
Another common problem among people with overactive gag reflex is brushing their teeth. Some experience the condition from childhood, while others develop it through time, sometimes as a symptom of a more serious condition, like an eating disorder. The following tips can help prevent you from gagging while brushing your teeth:
- Use an electric toothbrush: Your gag reflex may be a response to the jerky motions while you’re brushing your teeth. In this case, use an electric toothbrush with a very small brush head to make brushing easier and a lot more comfortable. Select the slower speed setting of the toothbrush to minimize the jerky movement.
- Slowly increase the brushing area: Start brushing the area you find easiest to brush, and then move slowly to other areas until you can cover your whole mouth. Some people with overactive gag reflex find it easier to brush with their lips closed. Starting with the outer surfaces of the lower teeth then increasing the brushing area also works well for other people.
- Choose a time that works best for you: Many people say that gag reflex is worse in the morning for reasons unknown. You can use a mouthwash in the morning, and then just brush your teeth later to reduce the risk of gagging.
Other Tips to Get Rid of Your Gag Reflex
- Consult your doctor or a visit a psychologist: Gagging can be caused by a different medical problem; for instance, an eating disorder. Consult your doctor if you suspect that your oversensitive gag reflex is just a symptom of another illness. Gagging may also be caused by past psychological trauma or repressed fears. In this case, it’s a good idea to visit a psychologist to determine the deeper issues that fuel your gag reflex.
- Consider hypnosis and acupuncture: Many people suffering from overactive gag reflex find relief in hypnotherapy. A hypnotherapist puts you in a trance-like condition to implant ideas, concepts, and lifestyle adaptations in your subconscious mind. This method may work if your overactive gag reflex is caused by past psychological trauma. Another alternative treatment to overactive gag reflex is acupuncture. One study found out that ear acupuncture helps prevent gagging, although it’s controversial whether this is a placebo effect or not.
If your gag reflex is normal, and you only have occasional problems with it, then there’s no need to completely desensitize your soft palate. Remember that your gag reflex is there for a very important reason. Unless you’re a professional sword swallower, it may not be beneficial to completely get rid of it.