How to Stop a Gag Reflex?

Jul 3, 2022 | General Dentistry

How to Stop a Gag Reflex

Everyone has a gag reflex, but if your gag reflex is considered exaggerated, it can make it difficult to undergo any routine dental treatment and put you at risk of dental decay and tooth loss. So, what can you do to reduce your urge to gag? How do you suppress your gag reflex? At New Leaf Rohnert Park, we understand how frustrating a gag reflex can be when it comes to dental care, but the good news is our team can help you find ways to stop the gag reflex.

Key Takeaways

  • Talk with your dentist about your gag reflex and fears for potential solutions.
  • Breathe through your nose during dental treatments to promote relaxation.
  • Consider acupuncture or medications like throat numbing spray.
  • Try desensitization techniques using a toothbrush to gradually control your gag reflex.
  • Use distraction techniques like humming or consider sedation options if other methods don’t work.

What is a gag reflex?

The gag reflex is a natural defensive mechanism in the body designed to prevent the entrance of foreign bodies into your airway and throat. In other words, the gag reflex works to prevent you from choking or swallowing things that could cause potential harm to your body. For some people, the gag reflex is exaggerated and can often be induced by fear, anxiety, or apprehension, as is often seen by those with a fear of dentists. These experiences can often trigger a more intense gag reflex, making simple dental cleanings difficult to endure, let alone more major dental treatment options.

How does the gag reflex work?

The gag reflex works by triggering muscles in the back of the throat, known as the oropharynx, to resist the urge to swallow. When you gag, your pharynx contracts, and your larynx pushes upward to close off the back of your throat and prevent the entry of a foreign object. For those with an exaggerated gag reflex, the contractions can be so powerful that they can cause spasms in the stomach that can lead to nausea and vomiting.

Ways to stop a gag reflex during dental appointments

The good news is there are things you can do to help minimize an exaggerated gag reflex. However, many of these tips can take time, so if you know you are going in for dental treatment and want to avoid a potential gag reflex, now is the time to start thinking about it. Avoiding dental care because of a gag reflex can contribute to many different dental concerns, so working to reduce your gag reflex is essential.

Talk with your dentist

If you know that you have a problematic gag reflex when it comes to dental work, communication is key. Talk with your dental team about what has happened before and any fears you may have, and they will work with you to help provide a better dental experience, as well as offer potential solutions to your gag reflex.

Breath through your nose

Deep breathing through your nose during dental treatments can help promote relaxation and reduce the occurrence of gag reflex. If you are congested, consider taking a nasal decongestant before your dental procedure to ensure you can breathe freely through your nose.


Acupuncture is an alternative medical procedure that can help reduce an exaggerated gag reflex. Inserting small needles into specific body locations, such as the front of the wrist, near the chin, and on the ears, can help.


Certain medications, such as throat numbing spray and snore relief spray, can help temporarily relieve the gag reflex. Using one of these treatments before a dental appointment can relax the muscles enough to get you through your treatment without any gagging.

Desensitization techniques

If you want to work on controlling your gag reflex, there is a desensitization technique that uses your toothbrush and can help you learn how to control your gag reflex. After you brush your teeth, gently move your toothbrush onto your tongue or the soft palate at the back of your mouth. As you get closer to the back of your mouth, you may feel the urge to gag. When you do, stop moving the toothbrush and focus on your breathing to resist the urge to gag. Each week, move the toothbrush farther back in your mouth until you completely control the urge. This technique takes time and commitment but can be very effective.

Distraction techniques

Fun fact! Did you know that your body is unable to gag and hum at the same time? When you go in for dental treatment, try humming when the dentist places a tool in your mouth. You will find that this prevents the gag reflex and can help to distract you from the dental procedure taking place. Before your treatment starts, however, make sure you let your dentist know you intend to give them a free concert, so the random humming doesn’t take them by surprise.


If you continue to gag despite trying other techniques, your dentist can recommend forms of sedation, such as nitrous oxide (laughing gas), IV sedation, or oral sedation in order to place you in a relaxed state and allow the dentist to perform the necessary dental treatments without triggering your gag reflex.

Don’t let a gag reflex prevent you from quality dental care

If a gag reflex history is keeping you from receiving regular dental care, it is important to address it with these or other techniques. Avoiding the dentist because of a gag reflex can put your oral health at risk and result in the potential loss of teeth. The team at New Leaf Rohnert Park understands how frustrating and frightening a gag reflex can be, especially when it comes to dental care. Our team of professionals will work with you to ensure that your dental experience is pleasant and do everything we can to help you control your gag reflex. To learn more about how we can help, contact us today to schedule an appointment.

Eddie Kuo, DDS

Eddie Kuo, DDS

Owner @ New Leaf Rohnert Park

Professional Degrees

University of California at Davis – BS in Biological Sciences with emphasis in Neurology, Physiology, Behaviors

University of the Pacific Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry, Doctorate of Dental Surgery

State University of New York at Buffalo – General Practice Residency at Erie County Medical Center

Front Office Staff On Phone Taking Appointment

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