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Gag Reflex and Dentures

Everyone has a story to tell about dental operations. Many of these stories are about people who have an unreasonable fear of dentists, dental procedures, dental treatments, and things like getting dentures that have to do with dental prostheses. Denture forums on social media are full of people who want advice on responding when they gag. In this post, we will try to shed some light on the causes of gagging and how to deal with it.

What is the gagging reflex?

The unpleasant gagging reflex is related to dental anxiety and might arise due to dental treatment (also known as pharyngeal contraction). When getting dentures, the gag reflex can happen at two different times. First while having impressions taken and then again during the adjustment period as one becomes accustomed to having a denture in one’s mouth.

What causes gagging, and why do I have it?

Gagging sensitivity is highly individual. The gagging response might be moderate for some people and debilitating for others. When something touches the roof of your mouth, the back of your throat, your tongue, or the area around your tonsils and makes your throat close up, you reflexively gag. 

Other sensory stimulation, such as scents, sounds, tastes, and sight, can also cause gagging. Gagging serves a physiological purpose in preventing choking or ingestion of dangerous chemicals. You can see how getting dental impressions done, which involves the manipulation of awkward molds with molding substances, could cause such a reaction in some people.

In the same way, getting used to a denture may feel big and awkward until you learn how to control where it sits in your mouth may cause you to gag. A hyperactive gag reflex can be psychosomatic in some cases, resulting from psychological stressors6, such as past traumatic events. In this case, you might be sent to a psychotherapist for behavioral therapy like hypnosis.

Gagging issues and dentures

Many denture wearers appear to be phobic about the gagging reflex, even if people with dental phobia may be more worried about needles, drills, and discomfort.  The patient’s mouth has to be forced to fit the molds and casting materials to get a good impression.

Although it’s just awkward for the few seconds it takes the mold to harden, folks with gagging problems may find that time excruciatingly long. Patients often report feeling claustrophobic and unpleasant due to the prosthetist’s manipulation of the mold to get it in and out of the mouth. This can be fixed by changing how the tray takes impressions. This makes it less likely that the patient will have a strong gag reflex.

Your prosthetist may be able to reduce palate over stimulation (the root cause of gagging) in very sensitive patients by adjusting the palatal length of your denture. If you try to make this change independently, your denture could become unsteady. Those who are very sensitive to gagging may experience an increase in anxiety simply from anticipating the sensation.

Some people have trouble swallowing when first getting dentures. Your gag reflex may flare up again after you get your dentures until your mouth adjusts to its new location. Yet there is yet hope. The gag reflex can be controlled in some cases.

Tips to get rid of anxiety-induced gagging

  • Talk to your prosthetist about your anxiety issues. With foreknowledge, your dental health expert can advise you on appropriate strategies. They are more positioned to minimize discomfort or triggering of your gag reflex if they are aware of your concern before treatment. Some practitioners utilize distraction techniques or walk you through each stage of the operation to make it seem less long.
  • Setting a stop signal with your prosthetist when you need a break can also be beneficial because it gives you some control over the situation.
  • Distracting oneself using relaxing techniques such as listening to music through a headset.
  • Squeezing a stress ball draws your attention away from your mouth and toward your hand.
  • Count your breaths by taking deep breaths for five counts, letting them out for five, and repeating.
  • Knowing that it is just a phase you will eventually get over will assist in getting used to new dentures.
  • In extreme circumstances, consulting your doctor ahead of time for medication can help you relax.
  • You can treat psychological causes of a hyperactive gag reflex with hypnosis or sedative medications.
  • Herbal medicines, acupressure, acupuncture, behavioral therapy, laser, and prosthetic devices are examples of further interventions with varying degrees of demonstrated success.

Wrap up

When getting dentures or doing the necessary maintenance on them, dental anxiety and gagging can be problems. If you suffer from gagging and dental anxiety, understanding why and how you may treat it will offer you some control over the anxiety caused by dental procedures. 

If you are afraid of the dentist and don’t get care, it could hurt your teeth and quality of life in the long run. You are not alone in dealing with dental phobia or gag reflex. Your dental prosthetist has previously dealt with problems and is ready to help you.

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