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20 Ways to Cope With Bad Gag Reflex & Fear at the Dentist

Updated on March 23, 2017
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Susannah studied journalism and is a writer both online and off. She lives in Australia with her family.

Many people experience gagging and anxiety during dental visits.
Many people experience gagging and anxiety during dental visits. | Source

Going to the dentist isn't the easiest experience at the best of times; even dentists themselves don't enjoy it.

Being awake while having needles, drills and water in your mouth can be scary even for the bravest person. Luckily, there are a few ways you can cope with the gagging reflex.

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1. Train your gag reflex - Test your gag reflex each day with a toothbrush and you'll find that with time, it will start to lessen.

2. Eucalyptus Oil - Placing a strong scent directly under on your top lip, under your nose, makes a great distraction for your brain.

3. Salt - Put a small amount of salt on the tip of your tongue, or even rinse some around your mouth before a treatment. Similar to the strong scent idea, it's a great distraction for your brain.

4. Valium - If you need some relaxing before you visit the dentist, ask your doctor for a prescription of Valium or a similar relaxant. Taken an hour before, it can take the edge off.

5. Throat numbing - When an object touches the soft palate, it can trigger the gag reflex. Use an over the counter throat numbing spray to numb the area and prevent gagging.

6. Squeeze your thumb - Place your thumb in your left hand and make a fist. Squeeze the thumb tightly under your fingers. This is an acupressure technique that can help control your gag reflex.

7. Go later in the day - Many people find that their gag reflex is heightened in the morning, so go later in the day if you want an easier dental visit.

8. Listen to music - Take some earphones with you and some relaxing music as a good distraction tool.

9. Watch a movie - Some dental offices have TVs. Ask if you can choose the movie or channel before starting.

10. Raise one leg slightly - This works on your brain as a distraction. You'll spend more time concentrating on keeping your leg stable than on your gag reflex. Change to the other leg when the first one tires.

Eucalyptus oil under the top lip can help prevent gagging.
Eucalyptus oil under the top lip can help prevent gagging. | Source

11. Meditation - Practice meditation and mindfulness during your appointment. To make this easier, use earbuds.

12. Humming - Believe it or not, it's impossible to gag while humming. It's especially useful if you're getting bitewing x-rays.

13. Breathe through your nose - The mouth is a backup airway and mouth breathing causes a range of issues (such as snoring, sleep apnea and tooth decay). Even with your mouth open, the more you can breathe through your nose, the better. It also helps you avoid gagging and choking that you may experience while mouth breathing in the dental chair.

14. Use a nasal decongestant - Make sure your nose is clear before a dental appointment. Blocked sinuses can lead to more choking and gagging.

15. Communicate with your dentist - Ask that he limit what tools are in your mouth, avoid touching your cheek or use a different angle.

16. Use hand signals - Loss of control can make you feel stressed and more likely to gag. Use hand signals such as a stop sign and thumbs up to communicate with your dentist.

17. Nitrous oxide - Some dentists offer this gas as an easy and relaxing way to cope with the stress of dental work.

18. Take a sip of very cold water - It can provide some numbing and proactive relief, especially before x-rays.

19. Use a child size xray holder - Having a plastic holder in your mouth during an x-ray can trigger your gag reflex. Request a child size one as an alternative.

20. Ear acupuncture - Studies have found that auricular acupuncture can greatly relieve stress and anxiety during dental visits.

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