Our gag reflex is really important. It keeps us from swallowing foreign objects that could sicken, poison, or choke us. But some people have a very strong gag reflex that makes it hard to do things like visit the dentist or even brush their teeth.
When this becomes a major problem that is preventing you from making dental visits, sedation dentistry works great to keep you from gagging in our office. And NuCalm is an even better approach that sidesteps anxiety that is behind your gagging. You can relax your way through your dental visit comfortably.
But what if you don’t want sedation, or if you’re having difficulty brushing at home? You can’t pop a sedative twice a day just to help you brush (sure, it might seem fun, but think of your liver–and your job!) Fortunately, there are natural ways to control your gag reflex.
The Gag Reflex Is Physical and Psychological
The gag reflex is complicated. Many people think that it’s physical stimuli that cause you to gag. However, it’s actually a combination of physical and psychological causes that trigger gagging. You might gag in response to a variety of stimuli, such as:
And your gag reflex tends to strengthen when you’re anxious and stressed. This heightens your body’s sense of alarm and puts its defense mechanisms, including gagging, on high alert.
One natural way to control gagging is to practice any type of relaxation method you find effective. Some people meditate. Others use self-guided visualization. It might even be something as simple as listening to music.
Whatever you can do to make yourself more relaxed before coming into the office can help reduce your gag reflex. And, of course, we can use NuCalm when you are in the office to help you relax.
Acupuncture has been shown to reduce the gag reflex both for cancer treatment and for dental patients. For dental patients, the place that acupuncture is practiced is on the ear, near the innermost whorl of cartilage. This is really important because the ear connects with a major nerve that can contribute to gagging: the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve carries signals from the back of the throat to trigger gagging, and acupuncture could subvert these signals for some people.
Vagus nerve involvement might also explain why some people see improvement of their gag reflex after chiropractic adjustment, which might relieve pressure on the nerve.
But if you’re looking for an easy solution that doesn’t involve a special trip to the acupuncturist to let you brush your teeth, acupressure is probably the easiest. For this technique, all you have to do is make a tight fist with your left hand, putting thumb on the inside (exactly the way you don’t want to do it if you’re actually going to punch someone). Hold for a few seconds, and you should see your gag reflex suppressed for at least 30 seconds. Not enough for a full tooth brushing, but enough to get those back teeth that are most problematic.
Unlike acupuncture, there’s no good nerve path to point to for the effectiveness of this one. And maybe it doesn’t work for as many people, but it does work for some.
The temporal tap is another easy way to suppress your gag reflex that you can do at home or we can do in the office. All it takes is a circle of tapping starting in the front of your ear, then around in a loose circle until we reach the back of your ear.
This is a highly effective technique for many people, and it’s super-easy. The likely mechanism is that the vibrations from the tapping activate the vestibular system. It’s the opposite of the effect that makes some people with TMJ experience nausea related to jaw sounds. The vestibular system is responsible for nausea triggered by motion sickness or dizziness. But these systems overlap so it can short-circuit the gag reflex, too.
Committed to Natural Care
At River Edge Dental, we are committed to ensuring our patients get quality care that avoids unnecessary chemical exposure and is mindful of your material sensitivities. We offer material and food testing to help you avoid allergens that can lead to mental and physical health complications.
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