Acupuncture May Provide Relief for Dental Patients with a Gag Reflex

gag reflex

Scheduling regular dental appointments for checkups and cleanings is important for maintaining good oral health, but many Americans with an active gag reflex may dread the idea. Dental professionals employ various techniques to assist patients with gag reflex problems, and recently, scientists discovered that acupuncture may also help to provide relief.


Understanding the Gag Reflex
According to Colgate.com, the gag reflex is a natural defense mechanism to protect the throat (pharynx) or windpipe (trachea). It prevents foreign objects from entering the upper respiratory tract. The muscles will spasm and contract uncontrollably to push items away from the airway. During a dental visit, people with an active gag reflex often have difficulties with X-rays, mouth impressions, or keeping their mouth open wide for an extended period.

According to Reuters, researchers at the University of Palermo in Sicily discovered that some patients with a gag reflex found relief when acupuncture was conducted during the dental procedure. This was an initial study done with a small group of patients, and the scientists plan to extend their research efforts to confirm the value of acupuncture in treating patients with dental anxiety.

History of Acupuncture
Acupuncture treatments were developed in China thousands of years ago. Acupuncture involves inserting thin needles through the skin in specific areas at various depths. While many American medical professionals question the scientific validity of the treatment, researchers believe acupuncture is helpful in providing relief for patients dealing with specific types of pain and health issues, such as nausea.

Other Tips for Coping with a Gag Reflex
Dental professionals offer additional tips for coping with gag reflex:

  • Discuss concerns with your dentist; provide a list of procedures that have initiated a gag reflex in the past
  • Breathe through the nose when X-rays or impressions are taken
  • Take a decongestant before the dental appointment to ensure nasal passages are open
  • Don’t swallow during dental procedures; let the dental assistant remove accumulated saliva or dental debris in the mouth using a suction tool
  • Focus on other things:  squeeze a stress ball, recite mathematical tables, or think of solutions to a problem
  • Spray a numbing medication in your throat before dental procedures are performed

For more tips on how to cope with the gag reflex, review How to Deal With a Bad Gag Reflex.