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Dental Impression and Coping With Your Gag Reflex

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Getting a dental impression is never a pleasant or comfortable procedure, but for those individuals who have an active gag reflex, the thought of suffering through the process is enough to cause nightmares. Letting your gag reflex keep you from regular dental visits, however, is not the solution. There are ways to reduce the severity of your gag reflex during procedures like dental impressions if you inform your dentist of the issue beforehand.

What Causes The Gag Reflex?

A gag reflex is your body's natural defence mechanism intended to keep foreign objects out of your upper respiratory tract. When your body senses something other than air headed toward your larynx, pharynx or trachea, your muscles spasm and contract uncontrollably as your body tries to force the foreign object away from your airway.

When your dentist puts the dental impression tray in your mouth, the feeling of the tray and the viscous impression material oozing in your mouth can cause your gag reflex to engage.

What You Can Do

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

  • Breathe through your nose. Remembering to breathe through your nose is not easy when your mouth is propped open, but focusing on breathing deeply through your nose can help you get through the minutes required to get a good impression. If you're congested, take a decongestant before your dental appointment, or perhaps try nasal strips designed for snoring cessation to help open your airways.
  • Don't be afraid of drooling. Drooling isn't elegant, but having your saliva drool out of your mouth is less likely to make you gag than trying to swallow when your mouth is filled with the impression material.
  • Distract yourself. Bring a stress ball to squeeze, recite your multiplication tables, conjugate verbs in a foreign language, or do anything else that will distract your mind from what's going on in your mouth.

What Your Dentist Can Do

  • Talk to you. Not all dentists are great conversationalists, but if yours is a good talker, ask him or her to talk to you while you have the tray in your mouth. As long as they don't ask questions you can't answer, the distraction of a good story can help reduce the chance of gagging.
  • Sit you up. If you are seated in an upright position and tilt your head forward, the impression material will ooze forward rather than flowing toward your throat. This should reduce the chance of triggering your gag reflex while the impression is being made.
  • Administer nitrous oxide. For severe gaggers, nitrous oxide (commonly known as laughing gas) is very effective in stopping or reducing the gag reflex.

A dental impression is an important part of the treatment you need to keep your teeth healthy and looking great. Don't let your fear of gagging keep you from a great smile.

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