A sensitive gag reflex is a source great concern and embarrassment for many people. It's often beyond an individual's ability to control. Children are especially effected be- cause adults may not fully understand how physic- ally difficult it is for them. Kids may be easily embarrassed, particularly if they vomit. Children frequently need a long series of visits, often over a period of years if they require orthodontics (braces). A sensitive gag reflex can be a childhood battle when kids are sick and need to take medications or swallow pills. These events can add up to a series of traumatic episodes that leave the patient with dental phobia as an adult. Patients may also have a gag reflex or intolerance of foreign objects in their mouth relating to a traumatic, abusive past. Intolerance to foreign objects in the mouth, sensitivity to tastes, textures and even foods can also be caused by a condition termed, sensory integration dysfunction.
Fortunately, there are many things we can do to make patients comfortable at the dentist and make dental care available without the fear or embarrassment. Dental visits most often begin with dental x-rays. We can use mouth rinses that dull sensation to help the x-ray process. Panoramic x-rays are also available, where no dental film is placed inside the mouth at all. If need be, all x-rays can be taken while the patient sleeps under sedation. There are techniques with local anesthesia (commonly called novocaine) that can numb the tongue and palate to reduce gagging. Various forms of sedation are available that generally can make patients entirely free from the gag reflex. The purpose of the initial consultation is to learn the needs of the patient and begin to develop a plan of care so that the patient can have their dental care in comfort, their way. I hope that our patients will always be able to tell us how they feel, and what we can do to make them the most comfortable.