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Getting a Dental Impression: How To Cope With Your Gag Reflex

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

Your dentist or dental hygienist may have recently told you that a dental impression will be part of a restorative or preventative procedure you need. From crowns to dental implants to mouthguards, a dental impression is a common tool used to create a mold of your teeth and gums. While getting an impression can sometimes be uncomfortable, it should never cause pain. Still, if you're someone who has an active gag reflex, you may have concerns that go beyond just slight discomfort. But allowing your gag reflex to keep you from regular dental visits is not the solution. By having a conversation with your dental professional before getting dental impressions, you'll be prepared to practice some techniques to keep you comfortable during the procedure.

What Causes The Gag Reflex?

Your gag reflex is your body's natural defense mechanism intended to keep foreign objects out of your upper respiratory tract. When your body senses something other than air is headed from your mouth to your digestive tract, your muscles spasm and contract uncontrollably as your body tries to force the foreign objects away from your airway.

As noted above, the dental impression is a mold of your teeth and gums. Your dental professional will insert the impression tray into your mouth to create this mold. When your dental professional puts the tray, made of thick and malleable material, in your mouth, it may cause your gag reflex to engage. But there are ways to manage this! Let's go over how not to gag when getting dental impressions.

What You Can Do

There are a few things you can do to reduce the chance of gagging when the dental impression tray is in your mouth:

  • Breathe through your nose. While it's always a good idea to check in with your breathing, it's not every day you're told to breathe only through your nose. Breathing deeply through your nose can help you get through the minutes required to get a good impression. We also recommend taking a decongestant before your dental appointment if you feel congested. Or you can try nasal strips designed for snoring cessation to help open your airways.
  • Don't be afraid to drool. So maybe drooling isn't the most elegant look. That's OK. Your dental professionals are used to it! Rather than trying to swallow your saliva, having it drool out of your mouth is actually less likely to make you gag.
  • Distract yourself. Bring a stress ball to squeeze, recite your multiplication tables or your favorite lyrics, conjugate verbs in a foreign language, or anything else that will focus your mind away from what's going on in your mouth. Many dental facilities now have televisions to keep people entertained while they undergo dental work, so ask your dental professional to flip on your favorite channel!

What Your Dental Professional Can Do

We recommend having a conversation with your dental professional before getting dental impressions made. In discussing your gag reflex, your dentist or dental hygienist should tell you about the standard practices they take to mitigate its chances of happening. They include the following:

  • Talk to you. Not all dental professionals are great conversationalists. Their work requires a lot of focus, so we can't blame them! But if yours enjoys chatting, ask them to talk to you while you have the tray in your mouth. The distraction of a good story might help reduce the chance of gagging.
  • Sit you up. If you're seated in an upright position and tilt your head forward, the impression material will ooze forward rather than toward your throat. This should reduce the chance of triggering your gag reflex while the impression is being made, so ask your dental professional to make sure your seat is set up straight.
  • Administer nitrous oxide. According to a small study in the American Dental Society of Anesthesiology, nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas, helps stop or reduce the gag reflex.

A dental impression may be an essential part of a treatment to keep your teeth healthy and strong. If your gag reflex has been an issue for you in the past, it's understandable to worry about it kicking in during a dental impression procedure. But communication and preparation are key!

You can manage your fear of gagging by having a conversation with your dental professional and making sure you both incorporate the solutions listed above. You can then be confident that you're doing everything you can to ensure you won't experience gagging while getting your dental impressions and can finish out this procedure with confidence and ease.

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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