Why Are You Gagging While Brushing Your Teeth & How To Stop It

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Medically reviewed by Danielle Romatz, RDH

Gagging while you brush your teeth or during dental procedures is more common than you think. People with a sensitive gag reflex find it very hard to brush their teeth, which can lead to improper oral hygiene. So, what’s the cause of this issue, and how can you overcome it?

When you brush your teeth, the gag reflex is activated due to the contact of your toothbrush with the back of your tongue, and this disrupts your brushing routine. You can prevent gagging by changing how you brush, managing your gag reflex, and using an electric toothbrush.

There are multiple tips you can use to avoid gagging while brushing and dental procedures. Keeping your gag reflex in control will help you maintain a healthier mouth. And if you’re more worried about gagging when you go in for your checkup, we’re going to cover how you can handle that as well. Let’s learn all the tricks!

Why Do You Gag When Brushing Your Teeth?

Brunette using smartphone while brushing teeth

You might have noticed that you feel like vomiting while brushing your teeth and tongue. For some people, it only occurs while brushing the tongue. It’s quite annoying when you wake up in the morning and can’t brush your teeth without feeling the need to vomit. Don’t worry; this condition is quite normal.

The sensation of vomiting comes because of the gag reflex. But what is gag reflex, and why is it activated when you’re brushing your teeth?

The gag reflex (or pharyngeal reflex) is a natural self-defense mechanism that is present in everyone’s body. The gag reflex is primarily present to prevent choking; when a foreign object such as your toothbrush touches the soft palate, the back of your throat contracts. 

The gag reflex protects you from choking when a foreign object touches the sensory nerve ending, inducing the gag reflex. It can also occur when a large pill touches the sensory nerve ending. 

Some people are born with an overly sensitive gag reflex, which can be troublesome. Such a sensitive gag reflex is triggered by even the slightest particle near your soft palate. It can also be triggered by anxiety. 

Brushing teeth can be very hard for such people. However, not brushing your teeth properly because of a gag reflex can cause damage to your teeth in the long run.

You should find ways to prevent gagging instead of skipping out on brushing your teeth properly. 

How Can You Stop the Gag Reflex While Brushing Your Teeth?

There are some tried-and-true tips that you can follow to stop gagging while brushing your teeth. You must control your gag reflex while brushing your teeth so that you can effectively clean your tongue and teeth. 

Cleaning your tongue is just as important for your dental health as cleaning your teeth. But people with a hypersensitive pharyngeal reflex can find it especially hard to brush their tongue. Here are some practical tips that you can follow.

Learn to Control Your Gag Reflex

Gaining control of your gag reflex is the best solution for preventing gagging while brushing your teeth. Controlling your gag reflex isn’t an easy task and it will take quite some time to get it down. But you should definitely give it a try if your gag reflex is disturbing your brushing routine.

For this, you will have to find the spot that triggers your gag reflex. Move your toothbrush around your tongue to discover the spot. Brush on that spot for some time until you feel like you are about to gag. Practice on that spot by brushing for about 10 seconds until you get a hold of your gag reflex at that point.

After dealing with one spot, try to go farther in your mouth and repeat the same practice mentioned above. This way, you will be able to get as deep into the mouth as possible and clean your whole tongue.

This technique of controlling your gag reflex isn’t recommended for children as it can lead to choking. 

Use a Distraction

Sometimes a good distraction can prevent you from gagging. If you don’t think about gagging and instead think of something tricky like a math equation, you may be able to avoid the gag reflex. There are many things that you can do for distraction such as watching TV or listening to a podcast. Anything that takes your mind off of brushing can save you from gagging. 

Use an Electric Toothbrush

Using a manual toothbrush and jerking it around your mouth can trigger your gag reflex. Switching to an electric toothbrush might help you stop your gag reflex. Choose one with a small head and use it at a low speed so that there are fewer sudden movements in your mouth. We recommend the Philips Sonicare 4100 Power Toothbrush (on Amazon)

If you don’t like electric toothbrushes, you can try a kid’s brush since it has a smaller head. The large head of an adult brush can trigger your gag reflex too.

Change Your Brushing Habits

When you’re brushing your tongue, try to use the toothbrush perpendicular to it instead of going parallel to it. It might take you more time to clean your tongue in this manner but it will minimize your gag reflex. 

When you’re brushing your teeth, take the time to spit out the saliva that forms inside because it can go toward the back of your mouth and trigger your gag reflex. 

If you feel nauseous in the morning, don’t brush your teeth right after waking up. Try to calm your nausea first and wait for some time before you brush your teeth. 

How Can You Prevent the Gag Reflex During a Dental Procedure?

Woman Brushing Teeth

Stressing too much about a dentist’s appointment can lead to gagging during dental procedures. It can also occur when the dentist puts a tool inside your mouth. This can disturb the dentist and disrupt the dental procedure. So, what can you do to prevent gag reflex during a dental procedure?

Here are a few tips that you can follow:

Numb Your Throat

Use a throat-numbing spray like XESSO Deep Throat Relaxing Spray (on Amazon) to numb your gag reflex area. This way, even if the dentist uses any tools that stimulate your gag reflex, the numbed area won’t react in any way. 2-3 sprays should numb the area for about an hour.

Breath Through the Nose

It’s important that you breathe through your nose instead of through the mouth. Breathing through the nose calmly relaxes your body and controls your gag reflex.

You can use a nasal decongestant to promote proper breathing through the nose.

Intraoral Technology

Visit a dentist that has intraoral technology. It is a camera shaped like a toothbrush that can help you avoid gagging during a dental procedure. 

Use Table Salt

Rubbing salt on your tongue or swishing with salt water can help with your gag reflex. This is a method that many dentists use for their patients who have a hypersensitive gag reflex.

Hum or Listen to Music

Hum while your mouth is open and the dentist is doing their job. If you think it is an awkward thing to do, you can talk to your dentist about it before the procedure. Surely the dentist won’t mind you humming. 

You can also listen to music during a dental procedure for a good distraction to keep your gag reflex unactivated. Take your AirPods to the dentist and listen to your favorite songs. 

Consult Your Dentist

If you’re open about your gagging problem with the dentist, they might have several suggestions and solutions for you. Some dentists also use sedation methods for patients with gagging issues.

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