How To Brush Your Teeth Without Gagging

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Medically reviewed by Othman Lahmaydi, RDH

Gagging is a condition that affects many people. This natural reflex is similar to the need to blink when an item gets unexpectedly close to your eye; gagging prevents you from choking and is part of your body’s natural self-defense mechanisms. But when it comes to brushing your teeth or visiting the dentist, gagging can be a real problem.

To prevent gagging while brushing your teeth or at the dentist, you can try things like: breathing through your nose, using an electric toothbrush, desensitizing your mouth, and sipping cold water before brushing your teeth. You can also try to distract yourself with music or videos.

Having a particularly bad gag reflex is an obstacle that many people have to face, so you’re not alone if you’re struggling with this issue. But don’t worry! There are many ways to minimize the gagging or stop it entirely.

What Is a Gag Reflex? 

Beautiful Woman In Bathrobe Brushing Teeth

A gag reflex is when the back of your throat contracts due to an object being placed there. The body recognizes that something is about to be swallowed that shouldn’t be, and it goes into action to prevent it. Gagging can be seen as the opposite of swallowing.

Still, some people have very sensitive gag reflexes, which can make it hard for them to brush their teeth, see the dentist, and even swallow pills.

Everyone experiences gagging differently. It happens to some as soon as they start brushing their back teeth. For others, it doesn’t happen as easily. There are actually two different types of gagging: one sparked by something physical and the other by something mental. They may occur in unison.

Some research suggests that half of the people who visit the dentist wind up gagging. There are different types or levels of the gag reflex, too. Others may never experience a gag reflex because their mouth isn’t as sensitive, or because they’ve never had a trigger to induce it.

There are plenty of ways to reduce a gag reflex. With taking action and working on the condition, this can be done. Among other things, it will allow you to not fear dental visits and help brush your teeth better. While there are some brute force options like using a throat numbing spray like Uber Numb Numbing Spray (on Amazon), this is only a solution in rare cases (you probably don’t want to be numbing your throat every day).

Let’s dive into the mental game of how to prevent gagging, and some other tactics!

How Can I Reduce My Gag Reflex?

Here is a list of steps you can take to reduce your gag reflex, if it’s causing issues for you:

  • Breathe through your nose instead of your mouth.
  • Try to desensitize yourself by having positive thoughts about dental visits and the things that go into your mouth.
  • Learn to trust your dental provider. This may take time, but it should improve as you get to know your dentist and start to feel more familiar with them. Seeing the same provider consistently can help you build a trusting relationship.
  • Sip cold water before any dental appointments.
  • Listen to music to help you relax and as a distraction.
  • Sit up in the dental chair and raise your legs. Changing your position this way can reduce or prevent the gag sensation.
  • Try hypnosis and acupuncture. Working on your subconscious can help you unlearn the gag reflex. Different ideas and thoughts can be given to you by the hypnotherapist, potentially preventing the gag reflex from occurring.
  • Talk to your primary care doctor or a psychologist. These professionals may have tailored suggestions, answers, and thoughts on your situation. They can help you determine the best course of action.

    For some people, gagging is the result of a past traumatic event. Working with someone can help to overcome that trauma.

How Do I Avoid Gagging While I Brush My Teeth? 

In order to properly brush your teeth, it’s important to minimize any gag reflex. Dentists recommend a handful of techniques that may help you out:


A great way to work on your gag reflex is by getting your mouth accustomed to objects being present. The first step would be to put your toothbrush on your tongue and slowly move it back. This will help you figure out where the gag reflex begins.

When you start to gag, brush for 10 seconds. While this won’t feel good, it will help you get accustomed to the feeling and work toward preventing it. Do this once a day.

Over time and with repetition, this should help stop the gagging. Give it about a month to allow the desensitizing process to take effect.

Use An Electric Toothbrush

The smaller brush head of an electric toothbrush like the Oral-B Genius X (on Amazon) should make it easier to tolerate and reduce gagging.

The consistent pressure and movement can also help. Use a slow speed setting to prevent uneven, random movements that might trigger your gag reflex.

Furthermore, no matter what type of toothbrush you decide to use, the smaller the brush head, the better.


While brushing your teeth, walk around, watch TV, play videos on your phone, or look at a book or magazine. Anything to take your mind off the main task can help prevent your gag reflex from kicking in.

Numb Your Throat

There are certain mouthwashes or sprays that will numb the back of your throat like the Uber Numb (on Amazon) mentioned above. Look into these options, and if you’re uncertain what’s best, check with your dentist.

Pick a Time That’s Best for Your Schedule

If your gag reflex is worse at a certain time of day, plan accordingly. Try using only mouthwash to clean your mouth at the more sensitive times of day, and brush at another point. For many, gag reflexes are worst in the morning.

This doesn’t change the fact that dentists recommend brushing twice a day for two minutes, so continue to do that regardless.

The Importance of Brushing Your Tongue

Young beautiful brunette woman brushing her teeth using tooth brush

Although it’s easy to forget, don’t overlook brushing your tongue. It is extremely important for your overall oral hygiene and has many benefits.

Brushing your tongue with a tool like the Orabrush Tongue Cleaner (on Amazon) can remove bacteria that’s left there from food. The tongue has tiny holes that bacteria can get into, and it can be removed easily through brushing. It doesn’t take long, and it’s easy to do.

Other advantages of brushing your tongue include:

  • Improved breath
  • Prevention of cavities and gum disease
  • Enhanced food taste

Brushing your tongue might cause a gag reflex, so be aware of that. A good way to prevent this is by sticking your tongue out of your mouth and brushing the front portion. You are more likely to gag from brushing the back of your tongue.

Another prevention method is to use a metal tongue cleaner rather than a toothbrush. Doing so should stop any gagging.

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