The gag reflex (medically known as the pharyngeal reflex) is a contraction of the muscles at the back of the throat that occurs automatically as a result of stimulation of the soft palate. This is without doubt one of the most important reflexes in the human body in charge of preventing something from entering the throat. By contracting, the back of the throat does not allow fluids or water to enter the respiratory system. This is why the gag reflex actually prevents choking.
The level of the gag reflex sensitivity varies and is not unique. For instance, some people may induce the gag reflex just by touching the soft palate with the toothbrush, while others require more intensive stimulation of the area to initiate the reflex. Certain individuals like sword swallows have managed to suppress the gag reflex by continuous practice and control it. This reflex may be also misused by bulimics who are prone to vomiting and they actually induce this process by stimulating gag reflex first.
Can Gastritis be the Cause?
Gastritis or inflammation of the lining of the stomach is an acute or chronic illness caused by various factors and underlying conditions.
The most common culprit of gastritis is a bacterial infection caused by Helicobacter pylori. The infection may also be caused by a virus, a fungus or a parasite. Other causes include long term use of non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, excessive consumption of alcohol, coffee, cigarettes, autoimmune diseases and systemic diseases (AIDS, Crohn’s disease, sarcoidosis).
The most common symptoms of gastritis are an upset stomach and pain in the upper part of the abdomen, but also indigestion, nausea, hiccups and loss of appetite. Many times gastritis is accompanied by severe heartburn and the presence of stomach acid in one's mouth may be a trigger of the gag reflex.
What can be Done?
There are ways to reduce the intensity of the gag reflex and try to control it which may be beneficial for individuals in whom the reflex is triggered easily.Exercising is one way to deal with the gag reflex. This method, named desensitization, teaches your soft palate not to react when being in a contact with an object. These exercises are done while brushing the teeth. You need to take the toothbrush and slowly reach the hypersensitive place. This location is then brushed for 10 seconds until one manages to avoid gagging completely. Reaching this goal can be hard since the period of 10 second might be quite troubling. When this is achieved, move the toothbrush deeper and repeat the process. Over the time, practicing will help you significantly to reduce the appearance of the gag reflex. It is essential to repeat the process because many times the gag reflex reoccurs i.e. may again be initiated with mild stimuli. If you decide to try this method, here are some pointers. First of all this method should not be applied by children. Also, while brushing, one is supposed to breathe through his/her nose. And finally, one is due to exercise only once a day.
Gagging is very common during a treatment at the dentist. One of the things you can try in order not to gag in this situation is to lift your legs up, breathe through the nose and use a nasal decongestant. It is important to clear your nasal cavity and breathe easily through the nose. You can also achieve this with several sprays of numbing spray. Applying lidocaine on applicator and putting it on both sides of the tongue can be very useful. People even say that the gag reflex at dentist office never happens if you drink cold water before the treatment.
Dentists state that the gag reflex happens not only because of physical conditions but also due to some psychological issues. When we go to the dentist, we have an urge to feel good and clean. It is important not to think about hygiene and whether you have flossed or not. If a person is afraid of the treatment, he/she needs to talk with the doctor and say that he/she is afraid. The dentist will certainly help. Maybe a patient can bring some instruments home and get used to having them in his/her mouth. The fear can be eliminated by putting salt on the tip of the tongue. This way the patient will concentrate on the salty flavor and not the treatment. The suitable level of comfort can be achieved with a good position or by listening to music during the treatment.