How To Desensitize Your Gag Reflex

For the average person, the gag reflex, a contraction of the throat muscles is a normal, even healthy, response. Also known as the pharyngeal reflex, gagging can keep us from choking or swallowing something dangerous. In fact, in developing children, gagging is a normal process as they learn how to eat solid food.

According to Medical News Today, the pharyngeal reflex can be triggered by two different forms of stimuli. The first of these, known as Somatogenic stimulus, is activated by physical contact and can be caused by anything from brushing one's teeth to oral sex. The other type of stimulus is called psychogenic, and is strictly mental, brought on by an unpleasant thought or hearing something that evokes disgust. Either trigger can prove difficult for someone who has a hard time managing their gag reflex, making it hard to take medication, or even visit the dentist. However, there are ways to get the pharyngeal reflex under control.

Gagging can make taking medicine difficult

According to a 2021 study published in Patient Preference and Adherence, 32% of people have a difficult time swallowing medication. However, a 2014 study from the University of Heidelberg offered two possible suggestions for swallowing medication with an overactive gag reflex. The first of these is called the "pop bottle method," and involves placing the pill on your tongue, putting your lips around the opening of a water bottle, and sucking the water in quickly, washing the pill down your throat. In the study, the pop bottle method was found to be helpful by 88.5% of participants.

The second method introduced by the study is the "lean forward" technique, in which you place the pill on your tongue, take a small sip of water, then tilt your head forward and swallow the capsule. The study showed great success with this particular method, with 96% of participants reporting that this method was helpful in successfully taking medication.

Acupuncture may also be a good way to combat the gag reflex, as evidenced by a 2015 study published in the Journal of Pharmacy and Bioallied Sciences. That study identified two points, one on the anterior forearm and the other in the middle of the lower lip, as being effective in controlling gagging.

Gagging can keep you from keeping your teeth clean

People with sensitive gag reflexes can have a difficult time going to the dentist. According to a 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association, nearly 50% of participants reported gagging on at least one occasion during a visit to the dentist. In order to overcome the urge to gag, you may have to try some mental techniques, such as relaxation exercises or cognitive behavioral therapy (via Rodeo Dental). You can also talk to your dentist about a local anesthetic, as a 2016 study published in the Pakistan Orthodontic Journal showed that an oral anesthetic improved the pharyngeal reflex significantly.

Distraction may also prove to be a positive tool in combating gagging. A 2017 study published in the Journal of International Society of Preventive & Community Dentistry showed that children who were distracted by counting shapes and colors saw a significant reduction in their gag reflex. If your gag reflex leads to a reduction in your quality of life or makes it difficult for you to receive medical treatment, then you should consider seeking professional help to get your gagging under control.