Stopping the Gag Reflex: How and why does it work?

Stopping the Gag Reflex: How and why does it work?

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I was talking to some friends over the weekend, and one of them made a comment about gagging. He said that he read or watched that clenching your thumb with your other fingers (making a tight fist with your thumb in the middle) stops your gag reflex. So, naturally, as a bunch of stupid teenagers, all 7 of us proceed to do this while shoving our fingers down our throats as far as possible. None of us had a gag reflex.

Why does this work? it seems totally random and weird.

What to know about the gag reflex

The main purpose of a gag reflex is to contract the throat to prevent a person from choking.

A gag reflex is a normal, healthy response. However, in some people, the gag reflex may be oversensitive. In these cases, it may cause problems when a person is brushing their teeth, visiting the dentist, or engaging in oral sex with someone with a penis.

In this article, we explore the gag reflex in more detail, including techniques that people can use to desensitize it.

Share on Pinterest The gag reflex is a natural reaction to prevent a person from choking or eating something unpleasant.

A gag reflex , or pharyngeal reflex, is a normal bodily response. It prevents swallowing by contracting the pharynx. The pharynx is the passageway from the mouth and nose into the esophagus (food pipe), the tube that connects the throat to the stomach.

In some cases, a person may gag extremely hard. When this occurs, it can cause stomach spasms, leading to a feeling of nausea or resulting in a person vomiting.

Two types of stimuli can trigger a gag reflex: somatogenic and psychogenic.


A somatogenic stimulus is one that physically makes direct contact with a trigger point. In relation to oral trigger points, this may be a large piece of food or a foreign object.

The activation of a trigger point causes nerve signals to pass to the brain, which then signals the pharynx to contract.

In this instance, the gag reflex is an attempt to prevent a person from choking or swallowing something potentially dangerous.

Although trigger points in the mouth may vary, a gag reflex will typically occur when something stimulates the base of the tongue, the uvula, or the tonsil area.

Some people may gag from a very gentle touch on a trigger point, while others may be able to tolerate a more intense sensation before gagging.


A psychogenic stimulus is a mental trigger that causes a person to gag. Generally, a psychogenic stimulus is a response to disgust. Therefore, a person may gag when experiencing an unpleasant thought.

Somatogenic and psychogenic stimuli combined

Physical and mental stimuli can be separate events or happen at the same time. A person may, therefore, also gag due to certain sights, sounds, and smells.

This combination of psychogenic and somatogenic stimuli can explain why some people may gag only under certain circumstances.

For example, a person may not gag when engaging in their own oral hygiene but might gag when a dentist performs it due to multiple triggers being present at the dentist’s office.

These may include anxiety about the procedure, the dentist touching physical trigger points, the taste of the dentist’s gloves, and the sound of dental tools.

As the main reason why a gag reflex occurs is to prevent a person from choking, it is not advisable to try stopping it. It may also take years of physical and mental retraining to stop a gag reflex.

However, it is possible that some people have no gag reflex, have a higher threshold to physical trigger points, or are yet to face a sensation extreme enough to cause them to gag.

Instead of trying to stop their body’s natural response, a person with a sensitive gag reflex may consider using techniques to desensitize or pause it when necessary. Some of these techniques include:


A 2015 study suggests that acupuncture may help alleviate a sensitive gag reflex in a short time.


Acupressure involves putting pressure on certain parts of the body to encourage it to self-heal and self-regulate. An older study suggests that applying pressure to the palm may change a person’s trigger point.

Anecdotal evidence also suggests that if a person closes their left hand over their left thumb and applies gentle pressure, it may stop them from gagging.


A person may desensitize their gag reflex by accustoming the trigger point in their mouth to touch.

One technique that a person can try is taking their toothbrush and slowly moving it toward the back of their tongue until they feel close to gagging. They can then brush that area for 15–30 seconds.

A person should attempt to do this process twice a day until they no longer feel the urge to gag from brushing in that area.

At this point, they can move their toothbrush back slightly further and repeat the process.

Local anesthetic

A sensitive gag reflex at the dentist can make the experience difficult for both the person and the dentist. A 2016 study looking at people getting molds of their teeth notes that applying local anesthetic to the impression material can reduce a person’s gag reflex.

Distraction techniques

A 2017 study looking at the gag reflex in children suggests that distracting them with a counting game may reduce their gag reflex response.

Relaxation techniques

A person may consider using relaxation techniques to reduce their risk of gagging. For instance, they can try meditative behaviors, such as controlled breathing and mindful thinking.

How to Suppress the Gag Reflex

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There are 11 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

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Whether it hits when you’re trying to brush your back molars or when the dentist is checking for cavities, the gag reflex can turn dental hygiene into an unpleasant situation. Cyberspace shares many different ideas on how to suppress this reflex, but there are several that stand out above the rest. Use immediate remedies such as numbing your palate or stimulating your taste buds to bring the gagging to a halt. Over time, you can also use your toothbrush to desensitize your gag reflex or practice refocusing techniques to help it subside quickly.

Weird Trick Completely Removes Your Gag Reflex In Seconds

Some people on TikTok claim they've discovered a way to remove their gag reflex, which could be interesting.

Why would you want to do that, you might wonder?

Well, a proper Covid-19 test involves a swab up the nose and to the back of the throat for a good while, so you might find yourself gagging a bit as you get that tickly swab swishing around your tonsils, right?

Of course, some people out there will immediately have jumped to the other thing that people associate with the gag reflex, but we're going to keep our heads out of the gutter here, and just explain how you can achieve this unusual feat.

Full disclosure, it's not definite whether this actually works, but you might as well give it a go and see what happens.

Here's the first part of the technique. Credit: TikTok/@gemmalawson57

There is a bit of evidence to suggest it might work, but let's come to that after we've told you what you need to do.

The audio in the video - accompanied by a woman performing the trick - states: "Today, I'm going to show you how to get rid of your gag reflex.

"OK guys, so get your left hand and put your thumb in a fist.

"Squeeze as hard as you can, and after five seconds get your right index finger and press it on your chin.

Tips and tricks: Preventing activation of gag reflex when exposing radiographs

Gagging in the dental chair is embarrassing and awkward for everyone. There are several things that dental hygienists can do to help their patients who gag, including sprinkling with salt. What?

When exposing radiographs, some techniques may alleviate the reaction

By Patricia Pine, RDH, COM

Our gag reflex is a natural protective automatic response designed to keep us alive. It keeps us from allowing any foreign object from going down our throat. It’s one of many survival responses, like jerking our hand away when we touch something hot. We don’t think about gagging it just happens. Have you ever gagged when having x-rays taken? This is not pleasant.

The pharyngeal reflex or laryngeal spasm activates the gag reflex when something touches the back of the throat, roof of the mouth, tongue, or uvula areas. The tissues constrict in the back of the mouth, which causes a person to gag or feel like throwing up. Many people become concerned when the gag reflex activates, and this makes them feel uncomfortable or nervous.

The gag reflex starts in the first months of life. If the infant’s brain perceives something that’s too lumpy, the hypersensitive reflex activates. Once the infant starts to eat solid foods, the gag reflex diminishes and is less important for survival, unless, of course, a bitter taste is detected and interpreted as dangerous or poisonous. The bitterness will cause someone to vomit and eliminate the hazard immediately. Cotton rolls can also activate the gag reflex.

Patient perception

Some people have a terrible time preventing their gag reflex from activating. This is embarrassing, and they don’t really know why it’s happening. Gagging can be a physiological fear of losing control by vomiting. Some people can see the x-ray holders coming toward their mouths (it’s not even in their mouths yet) and they start to gag. As dental professionals, this can be frustrating, time consuming, and scary. I have told my patients that if they throw up, I’ll be next. I’m a “sympathy gagger.” However, we should offer our patients who gag encouragement, patience, and a positive attitude.

I came up with my article topic when one of my myofunctional patients visited a dentist for her prophylaxis and new-patient examination. When she returned to her therapy appointment, she told me that she went to her dental appointment, but because she had a sensitive gag reflex, they told her to see another dentist. They actually dismissed her from their practice! I was flabbergasted! This patient truly has a severe gag reflex. The dental team did not understand how to handle or temporize the situation. Aren’t dentists always looking for new patients? What do you think this patient will have to say about that office? Negative publicity will not grow a practice.

As a prevention specialist, I felt so bad that she was turned away because of a problem she could not control. So we discussed ways to eliminate her gag reflex. She has a narrow palate and small mouth. We started some remedial activity. The most successful technique was using a small graham cracker placed between her tongue and mandible. She was able to tolerate this and did not gag.

Placing that huge x-ray holder in a little mouth is a challenge for both patient and dental professional. There are other ways to collect radiographic records, such as a panorex, child-size sensors or films, or piggyback bitewing tabs on the sensor to move it toward the center of the palate to avoid contact and gagging. Crosstex has excellent Wrap-Ease Cushions for sensors with barriers. These prevent the mandibular and palatal tori from being injured. They’re also comfortable and easy to use.

Professional swallowers

Think of a sword swallower. I gag just thinking about that, and I’m not a gagger! How did they train themselves not to gag while putting that long sword down their throats? What about people who “swallow” fire or other items mentioned in books like Ripley’s Believe It or Not!

Do these people not have gag reflexes? How do they overcome any gagging? Do they use continuous training such as mind over matter? What about people who are professional eaters? They have to overcome gagging in order to swallow enough food to win a contest. Participants practice in order to put on great shows for audiences. Patients can also practice at home to desensitize their gag reflex.

In the dental office, gagging takes most people out of their comfort zones. Gaggers often don’t want to return for more dental care. Every experience can be traumatic. Treatment is often postponed until it becomes an emergency. Future recare appointments are frequently cancelled due to anticipated stress and fear.

Every office should consider creating a standard operating procedure for these patients. Every team member should learn techniques to make appointments as comfortable as possible. Stress management is a significant step in this process. Patients could practice at home to desensitize their gag reflex each time they brush their teeth.

Gagging is a defense system of the body to prevent choking. I hope this article helps lay this gagging reflex problem to rest. You can collect some little bags of salt to use, and remember, they are infection-control friendly.

Patricia Pine , RDH, COM, is a national and international speaker specializing in OSHA, infection control, lasers, and orofacial myology. Pine conducts in-office trainings, boot camps, online seminars, and lectures at dental/dental hygiene conventions. She is a member of OSAP speaker’s/consultant’s bureau and publishes regularly in several dental magazines. Pat provides both OSHA Boot Camp and orofacial myofunctional therapy. Contact her at [email protected]

Tips and tricks from Facebook’s hygienists

My dental hygiene peers on Facebook shared the following suggestions after I asked: “What do dental professionals do for patients with gag reflexes when taking x-rays?” I was pleasantly surprised by the great responses.

    Communication is key, talking softly and calmly to patients to give them a sense of calm and control.

11 Simple Blow Job Tips (For People with an Especially Bad Gag Reflex)

I have a terrible gag reflex. In high school I used to throw up when I brushed my teeth (sad I know). So before I gave my first blow job I was TERRIFIED. My friends literally made bets on whether I would throw up or not (luckily, I didn’t). As I got more used to it, my fears of throwing up on a penis diminished completely and now I barely gag at all. Since I’m basically a blow job expert now, I decided to throw together some tips on how to give a killer blow job. These are particularly good ideas for people with a penchant for gagging. Some of these tips might be a bit basic, but bear with me. A combination of these suggestions is sure to get your man lining up for seconds )

1. This should be a given, but never use your teeth. Ever. Just don’t. (I mean, unless your dude is into that.)

2. Use your tongue! A little tongue action can go a long way. If you don’t feel like going too far down for fear of gagging, focus on flicking or swirling your tongue over the tip of his penis. Luckily, the head of a guy’s penis has many nerve endings so this is a great place to give attention to.

3. It doesn’t have to be all mouth! If you suffer from an extra shitty gag reflex or have a small mouth, it’s hard to go too crazy. SO DON’T. Just put the tip in your mouth and your hand around the base and ta-da, easy peasy!

4. Along with the above tip, a penis isn’t naturally a slip n’ slide so you have to get it all wet yourself. If you let some saliva drip out of your mouth to lubricate his penis, you can let your hand do more work without having to put too much of his penis in your mouth.

5. Twisting your hand while you also move it up and down is an easy way to get your man excited. I like to alternate between twisting my hand and not just to mix it up. The combination of my tongue on the tip of his penis and twisting my hand up and down is definitely a great way to get the job done, if you know what I’m sayin’.

6. Eye contact is a must. It might not make it feel way better, but it’s still damn hot for both him and you. It’s obviously a great view for him (I mean, you look hot with his penis in your mouth), as well as for you because you get to see how pleased he looks.

7. Keyword: Balls. Touch them. Lick them. Suck on them. Feels great for him, less likely to make you want to vom! I like to cup his balls while my mouth is busy on his penis it adds an extra sensation!

8. Mix it up! I like to alternate the speed and/or pressure to keep it interesting. Sometimes I touch his balls, sometimes I go extra low, sometimes I use my hand and sometimes I don’t. The only thing I would say is when he is about to finish, stick with whatever you’re doing. If that’s what’s going to do it for him, why change it up?

9. Don’t be afraid to incorporate some accessories – blind folds are super fun! According to my man, being blind folded gives the illusion that I’m going lower then I actually am. If you have a particularly hard time with your gag reflex, this might be a great idea for you to try. Whenever I used to feel particularly insecure it also kept me from freaking out because I knew I wasn’t being watched. If you are feeling extra adventurous, I’d recommend using a blind fold AND handcuffs.

10. If you are attempting to deep throat or at least go a lot further down than usual, breathing is key. More specifically, breathe out when you go down. Taking a deep breath in and breathing out as I go down is one of the greatest skills I have utilized to prevent myself from gagging. Sometimes it also helps to squeeze my left thumb as well, because that apparently inhibits your gag reflex (although I don’t know what research actually supports that). Never feel obligated to mimic porn and deep throat, seeing as pornography is honestly just a performance, but if it’s a challenge you want to take on, these two tips might do the trick! These techniques have actually allowed me to deep throat, which is something I never thought I’d actually be able to do.

11. Listen to and communicate with him. Make sure to always be attentive to how your he reacts to the different things you try. Not every guy likes the same things, so talking about what he likes or dislikes is helpful so you can both have a great time!

How Brain Death Works

The examination for brain death is based on response to external stimuli. Since the brain is the organ that feels outside pain, when the brain is dead the patient feels nothing. Before the examination is performed, the physician will have a toxicology test performed to make sure the patient does not have any muscle relaxants in his system, and will check that the patient's body temperature is not extremely abnormal, either of which may reduce neurological reflexes.

The positive examination for brain death includes the following:

  1. The patient has no response to command, verbal, visual or otherwise.
  2. The patient is flaccid, with areflexic extremities. The patient has no movements -- the arms and legs are raised and allowed to fall to see if there are adjacent movements, restraint or hesitation in the fall.
  3. The pupils are unreactive (fixed). The patient's eyes are opened and a very bright light is shined into the pupil. The light will activate the optic nerve and send a message to the brain. In the normal brain, the brain will send an impulse back to the eye to constrict the pupil. In the non-viable brain, no impulse will be generated. This is performed in both eyes.
  4. The patient has no oculocephalic reflex. The patient's eyes are opened and the head turned from side to side. The active brain will allow a roving motion of the eyes the non-functional brain will not. The eyes remain fixed.
  5. The patient has no corneal reflexes. A cotton swab is dragged across the cornea while the eye is held open. The intact brain will want the eye to blink. The dead brain will not. This is performed in both eyes.
  6. The patient has no response -- either purposeful or posturing -- to supra-orbital stimulation. The patient's eyebrow ridge is compressed with the thumb. The resulting stimulation pressure will cause motion of the extremities, either purposeful or primitive posturing, in the living-brain patient, but none in the brain-dead patient.
  7. The patient has no oculovestibular reflex. The patient's ear canal is inspected to ensure an intact tympanic membrane and that the ear is free of wax. While holding the eyes open, ice water is injected into the ear canal. The drastic change in ear temperature will cause a violent eye twitching by the intact brain but no reaction in the brain-dead patient. This is performed in both ears.
  8. The patient has no gag reflex. The movement of the breathing tube (in and out) or the insertion of a smaller tube down the breathing tube will cause a gag reflex in a comatose patient, but will not elicit a reflex in the brain-dead patient.
  9. The patient has no spontaneous respiration. The patient is temporarily removed from life support (the ventilator). With the cessation of breathing by the machine, the body will immediately start to build up metabolic waste of carton dioxide (CO2) in the blood. When the CO2 level reaches a level of 55 mm Hg, the active brain will cause the patient to breathe spontaneously. The dead brain gives no response.

If, after this extensive clinical examination, the patient shows no sign of neurological function and the cause of the injury is known, the patient can be pronounced "brain dead." In some states, more than one physician is required to make this pronouncement in order for brain death to become legal death.

Although the patient has a dead brain and dead brain stem, there may be spinal cord reflexes that can be elicited (a knee jerk, for example). In some brain dead patients, when the hand or foot is touched in a particular manner, the touch will elicit a short reflex movement.

Many physicians will order a confirmatory test for brain death when the clinical examination demonstrates no neurological function.

Vomiting Is Hard (On the Body)

It turns out that, just like how none of us enjoy the sensation of throwing up, our body isn’t a big fan either.

Vomiting is a painful, convulsive process. It stretches and twists our intercostal muscles, which bind our ribs together. Even after we’re done vomiting, it leaves us shaky and weakened. And it sends the contents of our stomach back up our throat and out through our mouth (or nose, if you’re unfortunate or unlucky enough to keep your mouth firmly shut when the vomiting hits).

Part of that pain comes from the juices of our stomach. Even if we’ve eaten a whole bunch of food, a significant portion of the vomit is made up of stomach acid.

All that stomach acid is dangerous, and damaging, to the rest of our body, especially our esophagus, mouth, and teeth. After all, our own stomach has to constantly secrete mucus to stop itself from being digested by our own stomach acid! Without that mucus, our stomach acid would eat away at our stomach’s lining.

Our esophagus, nose, mouth, and teeth don’t have any such protections against stomach acid. That acid has a pH as low as 1.5, and it will leave burns and can potentially scar our other tissues.

When we throw up, we expose our upper digestive system, including our mouth, nose, and throat, to that stomach acid. It’s a danger, but if we’re getting rid of something poisonous, it’s worth the risk.

But that doesn’t mean that our body can’t try to protect itself.

Stopping the Gag Reflex: How and why does it work? - Biology

Image Source:

Ahh! UHHH!! OOAhhh. If you wear an upper removable complete denture, you’ve experienced the discomfort firsthand and can relate to these sounds.

The gag reflex is also known as the pharyngeal reflex. Gagging is induced by stimulating either the vagus nerve or glossopharyngeal nerve on the tongue of the roof of the mouth. The gag reflex is the body’s natural way to prevent choking in the throat.

The extra denture material covering the roof of the mouth is a way to improve suction on your upper denture. It also can be a reservoir for denture adhesive. However, not all people can tolerate the coverage of the palatal area (roof of the mouth).

The palatal area of the upper denture, causes what I call the “gag zone”.

Touching the roof of the mouth with your denture may be enough to cause you to gag. Then, your face begins to look awkward and distorted. You may even feel like vomiting. It is quite uncomfortable.

Bring your denture into a dentist and ask if you are a candidate for dental implants. If they tell you that you cannot have dental implants, get another opinion. If the second opinion tells you that you cannot have dental implants, get another opinion. Keep looking for help until you find help.

It is very, very, very rare that you cannot have dental implants
(even if there is bone loss). Dental implants = no gagging!

Placing dental implants to secure your upper denture will allow the dentist to remove the part of the denture that is responsible for gagging. Then, your face returns to its normal countenance and your quality of life improves. The bonus is that your teeth have increased security and you can begin to feel safe to eat good foods again! I wish you all the best on your quest to improve your smile :)

Dr. Joe Kravitz, DDS, MS
Prosthodontist, Dentist, and Author

Top 6 Methods for Managing Gagging Patients

If you have been in dentistry for any time at all, you know that one of the challenges we deal with when it comes to patient management is the gagging patient. They are the patient whose gag reflex goes crazy if you simply place a mirror in their mouth or if they lay back too far in the chair. And, since almost everything we do is related to invading this area that sets off the gag reflex, you have to figure out ways to manage those patients and help them maintain their oral health in a way that works for everyone involved.

So, what is the gag reflex and why do some people have it worse than others? The gag reflex, also known as the pharyngeal reflex, is a protective mechanism to help prevent something from occluding the throat/pharynx/larynx/trachea area and expelling it out of the way to help protect the airway.

Why do some people have worse gag reflexes than others? There is no clear evidence of what exactly causes the gag reflex to be worse on some patients than others, but it can be a mix of anatomical and/or constricted airways, hypersensitive gag reflexes, and directly or indirectly related anxiety/psychological issues.

Until we know otherwise or have a &ldquocure&rdquo for hypersensitive gag reflexes, we can only manage the issue using a variety of methods that may or may not work. Therefore, the more tricks you have in your bag to manage these patients, the better off you and your patient will be.

Using my own personal experiences as well as anecdotes from fellow clinicians, I created a list of methods to help manage that gagging patient the next time they walk in your door.

  1. One of the most common ways to manage the gagging patient is with the use of topical or local anesthetics to numb either the tongue, roof of the mouth/soft palate area, or all of the above. This can be achieved using topical gels and sprays or doing nerve blocks to numb the tongue. Outside of dentistry, the Glossopharyngeal Nerve Block Technique has been used by anesthesiologists and otolaryngologists. The technique was recently published 1 for helping the severe gagging patient who has endodontic treatment needs, thus requiring the use of rubber dams. This is, of course, something that can be obtrusive to one&rsquos ability to swallow.
  2. There is another method that is difficult to understand but seems to work: using salt. Salt? Yes, simple table salt rubbed or placed on the sides of the tongue helps diminish the gag reflex. I have personally used this method several times for patients for some, it works wonders.
  3. A third method puts the impetus on the patient. Have the patient practice focusing on taking nice, even breaths in and out through their nose. Diaphragmatic breathing has long been a proven method to help the body relax and reduce stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system (the flight-or-fight part of the nervous system).
  4. This leads us to another important part of the gag reflex: anxiety and fear. Patients may feel these emotions in regards to their dentist visit or even just at the thought of gagging. In this case, the use of nitrous oxide by itself or in addition to anti-anxiety medications or sedation can help calm the patient as well as their overactive gag reflex.
  5. Another patient-led method is having them desensitize the affected area by slowly stimulating the area over time. They will essentially get the hypersensitive areas more accustomed to being stimulated, but in a way that doesn&rsquot cause themselves to gag.
  6. Finally, distractions during the event that causes the gagging may also work well for the patient and has no real side effects. For example, allowing the patient to listen to music as distraction throughout the procedure can help them forget about gagging at all.

The next time you have a patient who has a hyperactive gag reflex, try some of these tips and hopefully you and your patient will have a better visit.

Watch the video: Turn Off the Using Acupressure immediately and naturally! (August 2022).