If you have a sensitive gag reflex then it’s no wonder that you dread dental visits! Trips to the dentist are all about having sharp tools, bulky gauze, suction hoses, and gloved fingers in your mouth. Just imagining all this is probably giving you chills, right now!

The bad news is that there’s little you can do about this; it’s just the nature of dentistry to have all sorts of unusual objects in your mouth.

But the good news is that you don’t have to let this sensitivity stop you from getting the dental treatment your teeth so badly need.

Here are nine tips that Tacoma family dentist, Dr. Duke Bui, shares with patients who have bad gag reflexes.

1. Breathe Through Your Nose . . .

One of the most important things you can do to control your gag reflex is to breathe deeply and steadily through your nose. Concentrate on taking long calming breaths and you may find that you can power your way through the urge to gag.

2. . . . And Wiggle Your Toes!

The next step is to distract your mind. If you focus on every tiny sensation going on in your mouth, then your brain is more likely to trigger gagging. But if you can focus on some other task, then you’ll be able to ignore your gag reflex.

One good distraction is to try wiggling your toes. Whether you can see your feet or not during your dental appointment doesn’t matter. Just visualize in your head how your toes look and concentrate on wiggling them one-by-one. It’s not easy to do so it’s a great distraction!

3. Don’t Try Swallowing Your Saliva

Swallowing excess saliva in your mouth is a natural reaction since your throat wants to be clear to breathe. But you may find it difficult to keep up with the extra fluid when the dentist is working on your teeth and flushing them off with water.

If you try to swallow the saliva and water that pools in your mouth, you may find it overwhelming and it can make you start coughing and gagging.

The best thing to do is just trust the dental team to vacuum away the excess fluid.

4. Practice Desensitization

With plenty of practice, it is possible to desensitize your gag reflex. The key is to do so slowly so that it isn’t too unpleasant. Practice brushing your tongue with your toothbrush every day, working it a little farther back each time. Only brush to the point that you can tolerate on any given day. It will get easier the more you do it.

You can use the same technique with a cotton swab on other areas of your throat and palate.

5. Ask for a Topical Numbing Agent

All dentists will gladly apply a numbing gel or spray to sensitive areas in your mouth, if you wish. These topical anesthetics temporarily dull sensation in the delicate tissues so that they can endure contact with foreign objects and water during dental treatment.

6. Take Your Treatment Sitting Up

Dentistry is best performed on patients when they’re almost completely reclined on their backs. But laying down could make you more prone to gagging. If you find that being treated while seated in an upright position is easier for you, then just let Dr. Bui know and he’ll be happy to accommodate!

7. Use a Rubber Dam

A rubber dam is a piece of elastic dental material that can shield your mouth like a tarp or tent. The dentist places it over your open mouth and puts holes in it that are just big enough to let a few teeth through. This way, he can treat those teeth without letting anything contact the rest of your mouth. Debris, water, and dental tools won’t be able to contact your mouth and trigger gagging.

A dental dam is ideal for situations where you absolutely must be lying down to have your treatment safely and successfully completed.

8. Communicate Your Concerns

You may be surprised to find that just alleviating your anxiety can reduce your urge to gag. Let the dentist know what your concerns are. Set up a simple system of hand signals to communicate your needs during treatment. This way, you won’t be inclined to panic whenever you can’t speak because someone is working on your teeth.

9. Try Dental Sedation

When all else fails to cure you of a sensitive gag reflex, dental sedation is sure to help. A little dose of laughing gas (which, by the way, is offered free of charge by Dr. Bui) may be all you need to help you relax and avoid gagging.

Get more tips on managing a touchy gag reflex by planning a consultation with Dr. Bui. Call Duke N. Bui, DDS, PS – Family Dentistry today to schedule your appointment.