If you gag at the thought of getting your teeth cleaned or avoid going to the dentist because you gag during procedures, acupressure or acupuncture may alleviate the problem.
The gag reflex is activated by stimulation of certain parts of the tongue and mouth. Acupuncture or acupressure applied to a pressure point three fingers width past the wrist, can decrease gagging, motion sickness and nausea, according to a recent study in General Dentistry, the Academy's peer-reviewed journal. Acupressure involves constant pressure on a certain point; acupuncture uses ultra-fine needles which enter the skin. Both are possible techniques to offer patients relief from the gag reflex.
"Gagging at the dental office can be caused by fear about what's going on in the mouth at the dentist's office," says T. Bob Davis, DMD, spokesperson for the Academy. Other patients will gag because of fear of swallowing a foreign object.
By explaining procedures to patients, Dr. Davis observes that most of his patients who think they will gag found they had nothing to fear. "It's a matter of overcoming fear of the unknown," he says.
Additional tips for a gag-free visit
Dr. Davis offers tips on how a patient can draw the focus away from the mouth, interrupt the brain/nerve muscle sequence and avoid the gag reflex:
Talk with your dentist prior to treatment so you understand what will happen
Focus on other parts of the body, such as your feet or hands (try lifting your foot)
Breathe through your nose instead of your mouth (focus on your nose)
Ask the dental assistant to hold your hand as a way to provide reassurance and comfort
Bring earphones, close your eyes and listen to music as your dentist completes the procedure