Healthy Smile: Hey Doc, I’m A Gagger

by Jeffrey Gross, DDS, FAGD of The Healthy Smile

Many people have a high gag reflex. Being a gagger means that anything in the back of your mouth will cause you to gag. It is an upsetting problem that can make the patient feel very anxious about going to the dentist and causes many negative experiences. Many people avoid dental care because of this and as a result, suffer from periodontal disease and tooth decay as they avoid dental care.

What is gagging? It stems from a sensation of choking that causes the throat to spasm, making swallowing and breathing difficult. Most gagging problems can be resolved smoothly.

I have found several techniques that can make a gagger more comfortable. One is to apply a numbing gel to the mouth. It confuses the nerves, which then reduces the gag reflex. I have found this extremely helpful for patients while they are having x-rays. Another technique is when I am working in the mouth. I hold the dental mirror away from the tongue. If the tongue is not touched, it lessens the gag reflux greatly. When I take impressions of the teeth, I have materials that harden quickly to make the experience more bearable.

If you are a denture wearer, gagging can be a serious issue. One of my patients is someone who has not worn an upper denture in 4 years due to a gagging sensation. When she came to me, I made an adjustment that solved the gagging issue. Often an adjustment to the denture will help with the uncomfortable sensation. Dental implant therapy, which needs less denture material back near where the gag reflex starts, is the solution for other patients. Using implants solves the problem with a great denture fit for the long term.

Working on the lower teeth does not elicit a gag reflex. It is unique to the upper teeth and specifically the back of the mouth near the throat. So if you are concerned about gagging, work on the bottom teeth won’t cause a problem. When I take impressions for crowns, I use very small personal size devices to carry the impression material to your mouth. My patients are so surprised when I show them the small amount of material I use, and their fear of gagging goes out the window. These small impression carriers allow you to have the proper care without compromising your dignity.

Now more than ever, I have gotten away from physical impressions for various types of dentistry. Many of you know that I replaced many of these techniques with digital innovation. I use a state-of the-art dental scanner to do the same thing that impressions used to do. A dental scanner is a small 3D camera that takes pictures of your teeth in full color. The scans that develop from this technology are used to communicate with my dental laboratory. The expression that a picture is worth a thousand words rings true when talking about a dental scanner.

Please tell me right away if you have a gag reflex. There is no reason for you to be impressed by this sensitivity. When I know about it in advance, I can help make your dental experience in my office a more pleasant one. Keeping you comfortable and dealing with your needs is a prerequisite for good dental care.

If you have any questions, give me a call and come in for a complimentary consultation so we can get acquainted and discuss your concerns. I can be reached at 440.892.1810, and I look forward to meeting you.

Jeffrey Gross, DDS, FAGD is an Ohio licensed general dentist and is on the staff of Case Western Reserve School of Dental Medicine.

The Healthy Smile • 27239 Wolf Road, Bay Village, OH 44140 • 440-892-1810 •

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