Ask the Dentist: New technology helping patients cope with 'gagging' reflex

A visit to the dentist can mean dealing with an unpleasant 'gagging' reflex - but tech is making a difference, says Lucy Stock of Gentle Dental Care

Santa Claus visited Lucy Stock's dental practice early this year, with a gift of a new intraoral scanner
Lucy Stock

SANTA came early to my practice this week and delivered the latest technological advances in dentistry in the form of an intraoral scanner - a fantastic device that uses a pen-like wand to video the teeth.

This forms a 3D computer image of the teeth which is used to make crowns, bridges or braces.

Out with old-style impressions and in with technology that brings much more comfort to patients and makes the dentist's life easier. It's brilliant for patients in general who tend to find impressions a bit of a mouthful and even better for people who stress about gagging during their treatment.

Nearly half of people will gag at the dentist sometime or other while 7 per cent are in the super-sensitive group that gag every time. For the dental team gagging is a normal, everyday occurrence that they help people get through but for some patients it's embarrassing to the point that they avoid dental treatment unless absolutely necessary.

Gagging occurs either due to a physical stimulus, like something touching the roof of the mouth, or it can be a mental trigger, so just thinking about gagging brings on the uncomfortable sensation. Sights, sounds, smells and the mere thought of an object can induce retching. For some people, even toothbrushing is impossible due to the retching reflex.

During a dental appointment, the two main things that cause gagging are X-rays and having impressions. The triumph of the new scanners has solved the problem of gagging during impressions.

But there are also other ways of making dental treatment more manageable for gaggers. One weirdly effective way is to put salt on your tongue just before you have an X-ray taken. This tricks the brain into thinking that you are going to eat, the idea being that the brain won't invoke gagging when you're eating.

Just before your appointment you can try using some snore relieving spray or during the appointment, the dentist can place numbing gel onto the roof of your mouth; both methods reduce sensitivity and lower the body's reaction response.

For people with severe gagging responses, you may want to try sedation. In any event, try speaking with your dentist before treatment and raise the issue so that it can be addressed.

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