How to Cope Up With Gag Reflex During Dental Impressions?

It is very common to notice a patient stop a dental procedure when he experiences a gag reflex. Having a gag reflex is not only disturbing for the patient but also increases the work and time of the dentist.

In cases where the patient has a hyperactive gag reflex, a dentist may have even to abort the appointment and reschedule for the convenience and comfort of the patient.


Dental impressions are the most common appointments that are technique sensitive and needs to be done very carefully to prevent a gag reflex as well as to record all the details accurately.

But in dentistry, this procedure is not a comfortable one in most instances.

It is a process of discomfort for many patients who later may develop a fear to revisit the dentist. But that is not a solution to your dental problems.

Thankfully, there are specific techniques and ways that you can use to cope up with your gag reflex and help the dentist to carry out the procedure smoothly.

Let’s dive into the article to learn about these different ways of soothing your dental impression appointment.

What do you mean by dental impression?

A dental impression is an imprint of all the hard and soft tissues of the oral cavity that is taken to produce a positive reproduction of the mouth of a particular patient.

During this procedure, a dental tray is used that fits the size of the dental arches of the patient.

Sufficient amount of material like alginate is placed on the tray, and the details are recorded by placing the tray in position with the arch.

When the material sets in the tray, it is removed from the mouth. Usually, it takes around 2-4 minutes for the dental material to set correctly. (1)

What is gag reflex?

A gag reflex is clinically known as a pharyngeal reflex. It is a reflex contraction of the throat muscles, especially the muscles at the back of the throat.

These muscles are evoked by a physical touch to the sensitive areas of the mouth like the back of the tongue, the end of the palate, areas around the tonsils and back of the throat.

What causes gag reflex?

When a foreign substance directs along the pharynx, larynx or trachea in simpler terms, food pipe and windpipe of your throat may contract the muscles producing a muscle spasm that tries to push the substance back into the mouth.

During a dental appointment when a dentist takes a dental impression, the material tends to flow into these areas while applying pressure and may trigger a gag reflex. (2)

What can you do to avoid it?

A few steps will help you to minimize and even avoid a gag reflex and assist the dentist in performing the procedure accurately.  (3)

Long breaths through the nose

When you are ready to let the dentist put the tray inside your mouth, remember to take long breaths through the nose.

Deep breathing calms your mind and also shifts your concentration from the procedure to the inspirations.

If you have congested nose, you can use a decongestant to open your nasal passage to have a comfortable dental appointment.

Nasal strips that are used to reduce snoring can also sometimes help to open up the nasal pathway and allow you to breathe deeply and comfortably.

Drooling is common

It is common to experience excessive salivation when a foreign substance is put in the mouth. It is a natural body mechanism. It is okay to drool while taking a dental impression.

Allowing the saliva to drool will help you avoid your gag reflex as compared to swallowing it during the procedure when the impression material is inside the mouth.

Swallowing will not only trigger a gag reflex but also spoil the recording of the details. As a result, the dentist may have to re-take an impression or abort the appointment.

Try to distract yourself

There are multiple ways to stay distracted while getting a dental impression. You can bring a stress ball with you which will also help you to reduce your anxiety.

You can sing a song in your mind or close your eyes and imagine a story or a scene to take your mind off the procedure.

Anything that keeps your mind occupied will help you to stay distracted and sit comfortably.

How can a dentist help you to cope with a gag reflex?

In addition to the efforts made by the patient to stay calm and comfortable, a dentist can also help in certain ways to speed up the process and finish the procedure peacefully. (4)

  • Talk to the patient – If listening to someone enables you to stay distracted; you can ask your dentist to keep talking to you while performing the procedure. Remember that in this situation, only he is supposed to keep talking, your work is to listen and not move your mouth.
  • While recording an impression of the upper arch, a dentist may advise you to sit upright tilt your head down to reduce the chance of gagging. When you tilt your head down, the material doesn’t flow back into the throat which avoids gagging.
  • For patients who are sensitive to gagging or have hyperactive gag reflexes, a dentist can recommend the use of nitrous oxide also called laughing gas that helps to reduce and stop gagging reflex significantly. (5)

Take away message

Every dental procedure is essential for treatment to complete successfully. Dental impressions play an important role in recording the details of your mouth.

Although taking a dental impression requires a lot of patience and technique, by following the preventive steps you can stay calm and also help the dentist to speed up the procedure.


Stay informed about the different methods that you can use to avoid gagging. There is no need to fear or take stress about a dental appointment.

Every problem has its solution, make sure you are aware of it. If you still think you need help to keep your gag under control, ask the dentist to help you out.

The key to an excellent dental experience is to find a dentist with whom you are comfortable with.


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