A gag reflex, also called the pharyngeal reflex, occurs when something touches the roof of your mouth, the back of your tongue or throat, or the area around your tonsils.
As a result, this reflexive action prevents choking and keeps us from swallowing potentially harmful substances.
An overly sensitive gag reflex can be triggered by things like anxiety, postnasal drip, or acid reflux. Those with an overactive gag reflex may also experience difficulty swallowing pills, engaging in oral sex, or visiting the dentist.
Learn more about what causes your gag reflex by continuing to read. We’ll also talk about how to remove gag reflex or desensitize it.
What is a gag reflex?
Gag reflexes, also known as pharyngeal reflexes or laryngeal spasms, occur when an object touches the roof of your mouth, the back of your tongue, the area around your tonsils, or the back of your throat. In addition to preventing choking, the reflex also facilitates the transition from liquid to solid food during infancy.
By pushing objects in the throat towards the opening of the mouth, the gag reflex expels substances deemed harmful by the brain. This reflex is triggered during the first few months of a baby’s life by any food that the baby’s brain stem (connected to nerve endings in the mouth) judges to be too chunky for his stomach to digest. A baby’s gag reflex begins to diminish around the 6- or 7-month mark, allowing him or her to swallow chunky foods.
The reflex usually occurs only when an object is unusually large for a child or adult. Nevertheless, 10-15 percent of people still experience hypersensitive gag reflexes induced by substances in the mouth. Most HGR sufferers gag when eating sticky foods, like bananas and potato mash; oversensitive gagging can result in malnutrition in severe cases.
It is not yet fully understood why some adults gag while eating, but research shows that HGR usually occurs in people who have not eaten solid foods until after 7 months of age. Experts recommend starting this process earlier, between the fifth and sixth months of a baby’s life, to allow the baby’s gag reflex to develop properly.
What causes gag reflex?
A trigger point is physically contacted by a somatogenic stimulus. It is possible for foreign objects or large pieces of food to trigger oral trigger points.
The pharynx contracts when nerve signals traveling through a trigger point reach the brain.
An attempt is made to prevent someone from choking and swallowing something potentially dangerous by triggering the gag reflex.
Regardless of where a gag reflex is triggered in the mouth, it typically happens when something stimulates the tongue and uvula, or the tonsils.
People can tolerate a more intense sensation if they gag at the slightest touch on a trigger point, while others gagging at the slightest touch may result in gagging.
Psychogenic stimuli are mental triggers that make a person gag. The most common psychogenic stimulus is disgust. If you experience an unpleasant thought, you may gag.
A physical stimulus and a mental stimulus can occur simultaneously or separately. Therefore, certain sights, sounds, and smells may also make a person gag.
Some people gagging only under certain conditions can be attributed to the combination of psychogenic and somatic stimuli.
In some cases, a person may not gag when doing their own oral hygiene but may gag when having it performed by a dentist because multiple triggers are present at the dentist’s office.
A dentist’s touch on physical trigger points, the taste of their gloves, and the sound of dental tools may cause anxiety.
How to remove gag reflex using immediate remedies?
Put your thumb in your mouth and squeeze it. Place your left thumb in your left hand and make a fist. Underneath your fingers, place your thumb. Tighten it without injuring yourself.
Sprinkle some table salt on your tongue. Touch the salt to your tongue after dipping your finger into some salt. Salt triggers a chain reaction that temporarily suppresses your gag reflex by activating taste receptors on the front of your tongue.
Put a teaspoon of salt into a glass of water and rinse the mouth with that. Be sure to spit!
A numbing agent should be applied to your soft palate. The touch of objects can result in a gag reflex. Chloraseptic, available over-the-counter (OTC), is a throat-numbing spray that can help soothe a sensitive palate. An OTC analgesic containing benzocaine can also be applied using a cotton swab. After about an hour, you will notice a reduction in insensitivity.
It is rare for throat-numbing sprays to cause any side effects. There are some risks associated with taking it, however, including nausea, dizziness, sedation, and/or stomach cramps, so you should discontinue use if you experience any of these symptoms.
Be cautious when using benzocaine. In some cases, cotton swabs may cause gag reflexes and choking reflexes. Blue lips and fatigue are other possible side effects, along with fatigue, weakness, and skin irritation around your ears.
If you have an allergy to benzocaine, you should not use it. If you are taking over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and herbal medications, talk to your doctor about possible interactions.
How to remove gag reflex by desensitizing?
It is possible to reduce or eliminate your gag reflex by gradually accustoming your soft palate to the touch. You can do this by gently brushing your tongue:
- By using a soft toothbrush, brush your tongue until you reach the area that makes you feel like you might gag. Having brushed too far, you will experience nausea.
- Brush the area for around 15 seconds.
- You will no longer feel the urge to gag after repeating this process once a day. The area has been desensitized.
- You can repeat the process, moving the brush further and further back until you reach the farthest visible point on your tongue.
How to remove gag reflex by redirecting your focus?
- If your dentist offers earplugs, wear them so you can mask the sound of the equipment they will be using. Your mind can then focus on calming thoughts instead of being distracted by what’s going on near the throat. To keep your jaw open, use a bite block if you thought you might fall asleep.
- Hum. Humming helps you relax because it keeps you breathing. Also, it is impossible to hum and gurgle at the same time. Have your dentist take x-rays and have impressions taken of your teeth while you’re getting them.
- Lift one leg slightly. When you are in the dentist’s chair or lying on the table, you should do this. Make sure your leg stays raised. If the first leg becomes fatigued, you should switch legs. You will be distracted from work that is happening in your mouth and near the soft palate by using this trick.
- Play music. During your cleaning or filling, ask your dentist if you can listen to MP3s. Tune into interesting podcasts that demand your full attention or songs that allow your mind to wander. You won’t be able to pay attention to what the dentist is doing in either case since you’ll be focused on the audio.