Personal Stories About Coping With a Sensitive Gag Reflex

Here you can find some stories that people have posted on our dental phobia support forum over the years. They describe what helped them cope with a sensitive gag reflex. You can also read more general stories about overcoming dental phobia.

A calming environment and understanding staff can help with a sensitive gag reflex

As someone with anxiety-induced gagging, I made some huge steps lately

by Bowloforanges

As a child, I fought tooth and nail at the dentist because I’ve always had a poor gag reflex (just smelling a strong smell, even a pleasant one, or brushing my teeth past the canines induce it). I also have it as a side effect of anxiety, when I get too anxious, I gag uncontrollably. Never had great experiences with dentists either as a child, so, I never went from probably the age of 12-on.

I finally the past couple of months made the first appointment at the dentist in years. I did tons of research beforehand and found a dentist who has an amazing team. They are so great with working with patients who have bad dental anxiety. They are patient, kind, and actually take me seriously, and are great at distracting/calming anxious people. 

I cried in their office my first appointment because it’s the first time I have ever felt like I wasn’t a burden to the dentists. They took their time with the x-rays, even going so far as not to use the bite-wing holder, and use the smaller one for children’s mouths, and let me push the button to take the photo to help distract. We got through it. Then during my cleaning, every time the hygienist could tell I was getting anxious he would quickly pull the tools away and distract me, mainly by asking me if I knew the song that was playing, we played “name that tune” the whole cleaning and I was able to get a cleaning without nitrous!

Now on to the gagging. For fillings, they can’t even stick the gauze in there to apply the topical stuff before they numb me without me gagging. We have since learned that nitrous helps with that, it completely gets rid of my gag reflex and also calms me down. So for all of my fillings, I will need we do that. I know this is a jumbled post, and I’m new here, but I just wanna share that if you can make that first appointment somewhere, and find a team that is good with you, then it gets easier every time. I won’t lie, I still get anxiety attacks and gagging attacks on the way in, I am pale and shaking when I go back, but they are either quick to distract/calm me or quick to the nitrous. I dread it less and less each time, though.

Also, not once have they made me feel ashamed or embarrassed about the state of my teeth, and said I did the hard part already by just coming in to make that first appt. Hopefully, this story helps someone maybe. Don’t give up hope! I almost did! I’ve now had the x-rays, cleaning, five filings, and just had oral surgery (sedation) to remove wisdom teeth and some molars. I still have a long way to go and many more appts to make, but I’ve finally found a place that treats me well and tolerates a “difficult” patient. 

TLDR –

  • Nitrous helps gag reflex. I don’t eat before and don’t get nauseous after
  • I found a caring dentistry with an A+ staff who is great with anxious patients
  • They never make me feel bad about the state of my teeth
  • I have a long way to go but it gets easier, taking the first step was hard, and I did extensive research beforehand to find a dental staff that works well with me.
  • If the first place you go gives bad vibes, go elsewhere, you aren’t committed to them.