Gag Reflex Problems and Kids: How to Make Dental Check-ups Less Stressful

Your natural gag reflex is generally a good thing—this reflex protects you when there is a danger of something large going down your throat that might block your airways. However, some people have a more sensitive gag reflex than others or may find that oral stress triggers gagging.

Kids with this kind of hyper-sensitivity can find it really tough to get through dental check-ups. They may gag if your dentist touches areas at the back or roof of their mouths or may be so anxious about gagging at the wrong time that they can't deal with having the dentist's fingers anywhere in their mouths. How can you help your child manage the gag reflex during check-ups?

Keep Your Child Calm

The more anxious your child gets about gagging, the more likely it is they are to gag in the dentist's chair. It's important not to appear stressed about this problem yourself, even if you're worried for your child. If your kid knows that you are anxious, then they'll get more stressed.

Tell your child that lots of people have this problem and learn how to manage it. It may also help to teach your child breathing techniques that help calm anxieties. For example, breathing through the nose in a slow and steady manner can calm a child down; counting breaths may also distract them from what is going on.

Ask Your Dentist For Help

Most dentists will be used to dealing with patients with a sensitive gag reflex, so your kids dentist won't be phased by your child's problem. They may also be able to come up with some tips to reduce the chances that your child will gag during a check-up. For example, your dentist may be willing to do the following:

  1. Treat your child in a sitting position rather than having them lie down for a check-up. Saliva going down the back of the throat is often a gag trigger for hyper-sensitive kids. So, if you reduce the amount of saliva that your child has to swallow by sitting them up, then they may gag less.
  2. Break the examination up into small chunks so that your child has a regular opportunity to relax, close their mouth and compose themselves.
  3. Use a numbing gel or spray to desensitise areas that make your child gag when touched. For example, a little numbing gel at the back of the throat may help.

Your dentist may also have developed some distraction techniques that can help your child forget about gagging. If your child is focused on doing something, then their anxiety levels may go down, suppressing their gag reflex. For example, some dentists get people to hum during a check-up or to hold up a hand or foot and keep it in the air for a certain amount of time.

It's also worth asking your dentist about desensitisation techniques you can start at home. Typically, these techniques involve getting your child to use a toothbrush to touch areas that usually make them gag. Doing this regularly may help your child develop more control over gagging, helping them cope better in the long run.