Aging comes with many changes, including a decline in oral health. Oral health professionals make dentures to restore proper oral function. Although dentures are beneficial, some wearers may experience minor setbacks.
In addition to improving the ability to eat, speak, and smile, dentures trigger the pharyngeal, or gag, reflex. When your body perceives a choking risk, it activates your gag reflex to prevent it. This article discusses your dentures’ connection to gagging and how to prevent them from triggering this reflex.
Why Do Dentures Make you Gag?
Dentures are used to replace missing teeth as well as surrounding damaged tissue. When you lose teeth, your mouth tries accounting for the excess space. It’s wise to get dentures before the gaps negatively impacts your facial structure.
When placing dentures in your mouth, it must be sealed with an adhesive to keep it in place. Typically, you apply an adhesive to the roof of your mouth to ensure proper suction. For some, brushing the roof of their mouth is grounds for stimulating the gag reflex.
Some call the roof of the mouth your “gag zone”. In severe cases, you may even feel like you’ll throw up once you activate your reflex. If this occurs, your dentist will examine you and determine the best solution for minimizing your gag response.
Depending on the size of your dentures, the back portion may cause gagging. If the back of your dentures constantly rub the back of your mouth or extend near your throat, you’ll gag often.
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Is It My Dentures, or Is It Just Me?
Maybe it isn’t your dentures triggering your gag reflex. Some people are extremely sensitive to foreign objects being in their mouths. In fact, even a basic oral examination can cause extensive gagging.
Gagging is essentially swallowing in reverse. Instead of allowing an object to pass through your digestive tract, your brain initiates a response to close your throat, which eliminates the probability of choking. As your pharynx contracts, your larynx raises to seal the back of your mouth.
As an adult, gagging may be caused by dysphagia, which involves a sensitivity that makes swallowing food and other substances difficult.
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Gag reflex occurs because of physical and mental triggers. Somategenic reflexes are caused by physical stimuli like food and other small objects. Psychogenics are mental triggers, like seeing or smelling something unpleasant.
For certain people, both types of gag reflex work together. In some cases, the mere thought of a trigger, even if it isn’t an immediate threat, can cause gagging. For instance, if you’re talking to a loved one about a meal that made you sick, you may gag at the memory of it.
Think about your at-home oral routine. You may have an easy time brushing your back teeth, but struggle when brushing your tongue. Even slightly reaching towards the back of your throat can cause severe gagging.
Over time, you find ways to troubleshoot your gag reflex as you brush your teeth. In the dental office, however, it may be a bit more difficult to control. Severe gag reflex sufferers oftentimes have anxiety about the process of even being fitted for an impression.
Learning to Train Your Gag Reflex
Making a dental impression has a few factors that trigger your gag reflex. For one, if you’re sensitive to anything being in your mouth, you’re bound to gag. Sometimes, the material used to create the impression leaks, causing you to gag so you won’t swallow it.
Dentists separate patients into gag manageability groups. Some patients struggle with the molding material touching their tongue. This causes the patient to cyclically breathe uncomfortably and convulse, which are common gag reflex characteristics.
Some patients make it through the impression phase, but struggle to deal with the completed upper denture. Patients become unable to keep their dentures in for extended periods of time and take them out.
If you have either of these issues, your dentist will work with you to find a comfortable solution. Typically, they’ll make sure the molding material doesn’t touch your tongue. A simple solution is applying wax or tape to keep your mold in place.
Ways To Install Dentures With Minimal Gagging
Your dentist may use one of three methods to install your dentures with little to no gagging.
The first method is distraction. Your dentist may have you take a deep breath and elevate your feet, which makes it easier to distract your reflex long enough to make the dental impression. You can also use pressure points as a distraction.
Squeezing your thumb, pinching between your thumb and index finger, and applying pressure between your thumb between your bottom lip also distract your gag reflex.
The second method uses expansion. You will have to work on this outside of your appointment in order to begin this process. While you’re at home, they’ll recommend you use a toothbrush or tongue scraper to stimulate areas responsible for your gag reflexes.
Eventually, you’ll build a tolerance to objects entering into your mouth without gagging, at least as often. After minimizing your gag reflex frequency, your dentist can expand your oral cavity for a dental impression. This allows you to successfully get your dentures created and placed.
Dentists may also create a stimulation that expands to accommodate the upper denture. There’s a series of considerations made when deciding if you require complete dentures.
The final technique is called multidisciplinary, which involves troubleshooting gag reflexes through a series of techniques. After doing an evaluation, you and your dentist will bounce around ideas that may solve the underlying cause of your gag reflex and how to get it under control.
Many severe gag reflex sufferers use acupuncture for relief. This is a medical practice that strategically places needles in various parts of the body. Researchers found that placing a needle slightly below the lip and two inches below your palm temporarily keeps your gag reflex at bay.
Another acupuncture technique places needles in each ear to temporarily disable your gag reflex. Be sure to let a professional perform this procedure for you. Administering acupuncture needles yourself can result in adverse side effects.
Denture Alternatives for Gag Reflex
Keep in mind, dentures take a bit of time to adjust. In fact, it’s normal for soreness and discomfort for a period. Be sure to contact your dentist for help with continual, intense pain.
If dentures still don’t work after a trial period, dentists usually suggest dental implants. Getting implants in the top of your mouth stabilizes your dentures and allows your dentist to shave down the portion responsible for gagging. If this option seems favorable to you, bring your dentures in for an evaluation.
Sometimes, dentists will recommend against dental implants. Being that it’s rare a patient won’t qualify for implants, be sure to get at least a second opinion.
If you’re denied, there’s an alternative to both dental implants and dentures. If necessary, your dentist may recommend bridges. Bridges are fixed installations that fill the gaps between your natural teeth.
Bridges are great because they’re fixed in place, making them function similarly to your natural teeth. Since they don’t rub against the roof of your mouth, they’re unlikely to trigger your gag reflex. The trouble with bridges, however, are they’re only removed by your dentist, so they may be difficult to clean and can damage surrounding teeth.
Gag reflexes are different for everyone. If you have severe gag reflexes, discuss the best solutions to repress them in order to get your dentures. It’s wise to work on building a tolerance to your gag reflex, especially during the process of creating a dental impression.
Keep in mind, gag reflexes are triggered by more than physical threats. Other underlying conditions like stress, unpleasant scents and sights, as well as memories are enough to trigger a response. Keeping your physical and mental stress under control are ways to improve your sensitivity to gagging.
The biggest way to keep gagging under control, especially during appointments, is communication. Stay in contact with your dentist, especially if you’re experiencing extreme pain. You shouldn’t have to compromise your oral health for your gag reflex. With a bit of practice and medical intervention, you can restore your oral function.