You’re in the middle of your daily brushing routine when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, you gag and feel like you might even throw up. It’s that classic, can’t help the reaction moment, and it makes brushing especially difficult. So, how can you stop gagging when you’re brushing your teeth?
There are a few different methods to reduce gagging, depending on why you have this reaction in the first place. From relaxing a bit, to distracting yourself, there are several tricks to try. Be sure to keep these “how to stop gagging” tips in mind the next time you brush and struggle with a overactive gag reflex.
Some people just have a hypersensitive gag reflex. Other times, it’s a child using a too-big toothbrush, and it’s tickling their tonsils. Or maybe you’re in your first trimester of pregnancy and are experiencing a lot of nausea or morning sickness. The truth is, some people are just a lot more sensitive to having something in their mouth than others and it makes them gag more easily.
The first technique that you can use to stop gagging is simply just trying to relax. If you’re hyping yourself up and all you can think about is gagging, then you guessed it, you are probably going to gag. This can induce anxiety and stress before you brush and negatively impact your oral hygiene routine!
Start by taking a few slow deep breaths through your nose. Count to 4 when on the inhale, hold your breath for another 4 seconds, and then slowly release it for 4 seconds out. This is known as the 4-4-4 method and has been shown to reduce feelings of anxiety and stress. By breathing slowly in and out, you’re helping your brain enter its rest and digest mode, which is associated with your parasympathetic nervous system. This is the system responsible for slowing heart rate and relaxing your muscles and mind. Try this next time you brush and see how much better you feel.
Sometimes, reducing your likelihood of gagging when brushing your teeth is as simple as changing the type of toothbrush you use. Some toothbrush heads are large and bulky. A larger toothbrush can easily induce your gag reflex as it takes up a lot of space in your mouth. Try smaller toothbrush sizes or even a children’s toothbrush. You may do better with an electric toothbrush over a manual one, as the electric brushes will often do a majority of the cleaning for you; that way, you can just use it to touch your teeth and have a lower chance of hitting the roof of your mouth (soft palate) or back of your tongue.
Switching up the angle of your toothbrush against your teeth could also potentially reduce your gag reflex. Watch where your toothbrush head is hitting while you brush. If it’s constantly angled to hit your tongue, try a different approach. Try vertical, diagonal, and horizontal positioning of your toothbrush to get a feel for what feels the most comfortable.
You may be gagging simply due to the amount of toothpaste you use every time you brush. Excess toothpaste can irritate the back of your throat. Try a small smear of toothpaste, just enough to get a taste, but not too much to overwhelm your senses. A pea-sized amount is all you should be using. Try spitting out the excess saliva that builds up when brushing.
Maybe you just need a quick distraction for those two minutes of brushing! Playing music while you brush, humming through your nose, watching a video, or even slowly walking (carefully, of course) may help to distract your gag reflex response just long enough to brush properly. Squeezing your thumb in a fist can also help distract you just enough to ease the reflex response.
If you breathe through your nose, you can help relax your throat muscles. This is a method many dentists will use when taking X-rays on patients with sensitive gag reflexes. You can also try closing one nostril and breathing through one side only. This method can work by bringing your attention to your breath. Slow, heavy breathing through your nose will automatically relax your body and mind. Think of it like yoga!
Your gag reflex could be related to the texture of toothpaste that you use. Gel, foam, and creamy toothpastes all feel and taste very different. Try switching the types you use and see if one works better than another. If you still struggle with toothpaste and gagging, you can try brushing with water and rinsing with mouthwash to make up for the lack of fluoride being used.
Believe it or not, a pinch of salt on the tip of your tongue can help to desensitize your gag reflex. You can try brushing a little bit at a time. Instead of a full two minutes all at once, try intervals as short as 5 seconds, and build up from there. It may seem like it takes forever, but this can truly pay off in the long run. Another way you can desensitize yourself is by adjusting the brushing pressure. If you struggle with brushing your back teeth, use the lightest pressure to start. Once you get comfortable, increase it slightly until you’re where you’d like to be. Remember, plaque removal does not require heavy-handed scrubbing.
Using mouthwash can help reduce harmful bacteria that can cause cavities and gum disease. However, it can also help serve as a distraction. Find a flavor you enjoy and try incorporating this into your brushing routine.
Like the mouthwash technique, finding the right flavor of toothpaste can help reduce your chances of gagging when brushing teeth. Find a flavor you enjoy and try a small amount of it each time you brush. Avoid using too much, as this is likely to increase the risk of gagging. Even if you have to start as small as just dabbing a small amount to taste at first, it’s a start!
While you may be tempted to skip your dental hygiene routine because of your fears of gagging, it’s important to stay strong and power through this. If you begin to neglect your oral health by limiting brushing time or skipping brushing altogether, you will start to see some negative side effects. If plaque bacteria and food debris are allowed to sit on your teeth for too long, you will eventually begin to develop cavities and gum disease. The last thing we want is tooth decay and extra dental visits!
When you brush your teeth, it's important to use proper brushing technique to avoid dental problems in sensitive areas. The gag reflex, also called the pharyngeal reflex, is a natural reaction that makes the back of your throat contract. This happens when something like a toothbrush or a big pill goes to the back of your tongue, the roof of your mouth, or close to your tonsils. The gag reflex helps stop you from choking.
Chances are, if you gag when you brush, you might also gag when you are trying to floss. This can be super frustrating for an already tedious task. If string floss is too difficult to maneuver on your back teeth, there are alternatives that may work better for you. Products such as water flossers, extended handle floss picks, and interdental brushes may be better options to try other than string floss, especially if putting your fingers into your mouth tend to be the biggest issue. These can give you a sense of control and may prevent the gag reflex altogether.
When you brush or clean your tongue, it’s like playing around with your gag reflex on purpose. At some point, you’re bound to go too far with it! It’s best to start slow by using a tongue scraper, just cleaning the tip of your tongue the first few times. If you can get through it, try going just a bit further back the next time, and continue the process until you can clean the majority of your tongue.
Trying to stop gagging when brushing teeth? Gagging is uncomfortable and can seem like you’re trying to win a never-ending battle. But using these techniques with a little bit of patience can turn your oral hygiene routine around for the better. Good oral hygiene is a priority for your smile’s long-term health. Don’t let gagging get in the way of properly caring for yourself. As always, be sure to talk to your dental provider for more tips and tricks to reduce gagging whenever you brush and floss your teeth.
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