Does this make me Lady Gag?
March 6, 2011 4:24 AM   Subscribe

Why do I gag when I brush the teeth at the back of my mouth? More importantly, how can I stop it? Possibly NSFWeak stomachs.

I've never had an issue with gagging while teeth-brushing until a couple of years ago.

I had terrible teeth until about 5 years ago, when I was 37-ish. I was then financially able to have them fixed so I had a lot of cosmetic work done, and had a couple of panic attacks in the chair when I had a latex mask thing covering other teeth to protect the one which was being worked on.

(The dentist was very understanding of my panic attacks - stopping work immediately, putting the chair upright, asking if I wanted the assistant to hold my hand - so I don't think it's some sort of PTSD thing.)

He suggested warming the toothbrush under the hot tap, saying maybe it was the shock of the cold water that triggered my gagging. I tried warming the toothbrush, it made no difference. To be honest, it probably made it worse. He has no other suggestions.

I've tried sending my mind elsewhere while I brush, which works but I don't think my teeth are being cleaned effectively while I'm mentally on a Fijian beach. I've found it's easier if I - forgive me if this is too graphic - go with the flow, instead of fighting the urge to gag, I let it happen. Usually I just dry-retch, but a couple of times it has gone to the point where I had to clean out the basin and I don't want my kids brushing their teeth where their mother has recently puked. I know it's clean, but it's just... icky.

I've also tried different toothbrush shapes and different toothpastes. And the only other thing that makes me gag is hearing someone else vomit, or a particular joke involving a spitoon. I have a pretty strong stomach, otherwise.

So, how can I conquer this? I want all my teeth to be smooth and sparkling clean, not just the ones at the front.
posted by malibustacey9999 to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I also have a strong gag reflex, thought it doesn't sound as bad as yours. Mine will bother me sometimes while I'm brushing my teeth, but at other times while I'm holding something in my teeth. I don't have a great solution for you, but I try to breathe - aggressively - through my nose. It does help at times.
posted by Wet Hen at 4:30 AM on March 6, 2011

Seconding breathing. I sometimes have similar issues when brushing my teeth or at the dentist; breathing is what my dental hygienist recommended.
posted by pie ninja at 4:52 AM on March 6, 2011

I don't have great advice; the breathing idea sounds good. Mainly chiming to say (sorry, I know this isn't a solution, but it is worth pointing out) - the vomiting is probably worse for your teeth (stomach acid) than the back molars getting short shrift.

Are you able to floss in the back without triggering this? That's probably more than half the battle in avoiding tooth decay.

Another straw to grasp - have you had your throat and tonsils checked, or at least looked in the mirror for swelling or irritation? Given the onset of this, it does sound more psychological in nature, but it couldn't hurt to make sure.

And of course now I want to hear the joke involving the spitoon, but I won't ask you, since it might involve throwing up on your keyboard. :-)
posted by randomkeystrike at 5:19 AM on March 6, 2011

I feel your pain.

I've found that holding my nose while I'm brushing back there sometimes works, and with COLD water! I also make sure the toothbrush doesn't have too much toothpaste on it, the foamy sweetness just hits my gag reflex too much.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 5:56 AM on March 6, 2011

Anecdotally, it's possible to desensitize the tissue gradually just by gracing the area around it (in your comfort zone) and slowly working your way toward it (over the course of weeks). I was never able to brush the back of my tongue until I tried this. YMMV.

It's not a perfect method for you since you actually need to brush your back teeth regularly, unlike brushing your tongue which is optional. But try spending a minute every day getting closer to the problem area and see if it helps. If you can desensitize the area then it may be easier to avoid the panic symptoms that follow from it.
posted by Shelf at 6:13 AM on March 6, 2011

Have you tried different toothbrushes? I find that the curvier ones that are designed after dentist tools help me to target my teeth and to not tangle with my uvula or other gaggy regions. Also, a toothbrush with a smaller brush head works better for me.
posted by pickypicky at 6:40 AM on March 6, 2011

Best answer: I have a really strong gag reflex as well -- but I've always had it, so I'm not sure what this late-onset thing might be. Unless you've been kind of half-heartedly doing it up to now, and the increased work on your teeth caused you to consciously try getting to the back more diligently -- and that's triggering your gag reflex now when you hadn't before.

Stopping and taking a couple deep breaths when I feel a gag coming on helps a lot.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:48 AM on March 6, 2011

Best answer: I get this too -- I think it's because I've got some post-nasal drip issues (not to mention that mucus crud that gets trapped in the tonsils, I forget what it's called besides 'ick'), so when the toothpaste hits that stuff and starts foaming it up, it triggers the gag reflex.

My tricks for getting around it are:
1) I don't try to brush my teeth first thing in the morning after getting out of bed; I wait until after I've either taken a shower or had a cup of tea, so I've spit out or swallowed the morning crud.

2) Use a minimal amount of toothpaste. You say you've tried different shapes of brushes, are those all manual or have you tried electric? I use the Phillips Sonicare with the little circular brush head, so it only takes a tiny bit of toothpaste to cover it.

3) Lean forward. If you're looking straight ahead at the mirror and opening your mouth wide to see the back teeth as you brush them, the toothpaste foam is just going to get to the back of your throat faster. I don't bother looking in the mirror at all, I just lean over the sink and brush with my mouth mostly closed. That also forces you to breathe through your nose, which I think helps in avoiding the gag reflex.
posted by oh yeah! at 6:55 AM on March 6, 2011

I have the same problem sometimes. I think mine is triggered more by leaning over the sink and brushing - when I straighten up and breathe normally, it goes away. I feel a little acid reflux too, which if it doesn't trigger the gagging, does make it worse.
posted by chookibing at 7:00 AM on March 6, 2011

A friend has this problem sometimes. Exacerbated by stress - Doctor says the gagging reflex becomes more sensitive under stress.
posted by krilli at 7:11 AM on March 6, 2011

I used to have this problem and my dentist recommended putting a little bit of table salt on the tip of my tongue which worked suprisingly well in addition to the desentisation mentioned above.
posted by Laura_J at 7:24 AM on March 6, 2011

I find that if I don't lean forward, I also gag by the end.
It also helps me to brush areas that bring out the gag reflex first. For me, it's the back of my teeth, so when I think about it (rarely in the morning), things are much easier when I do the back first and then move to the front.
posted by jmd82 at 7:42 AM on March 6, 2011

Best answer: I find that I gag more when using a manual toothbrush than when I use a sonicare or even one of the cheap, battery operated ones. I think it has to do with the necessity of the back and forth type motion required, as opposed to just being able to "place" the toothbrush where it needs to go and letting it do its job. Less stimulation of the gagular area, so to speak.
posted by jvilter at 8:23 AM on March 6, 2011

Do you look in the mirror while you're brushing? I'm not sure I can explain why, but I find my gag reflex is triggered more strongly if I'm looking at myself in the mirror while brushing. Looking away seems to help.
posted by Adam_S at 8:28 AM on March 6, 2011

I was going to share Laura_J 's salt idea, which my dental hygienist suggested (she keeps salt packets handy in her drawer), though she said to put it on the back of the tongue, not the tip.

For me it's only a problem during dental x-rays, now. When I was pregnant it was so bad I had to start flossing in a different quadrant of my mouth each time, because there was no chance I'd get through all of my teeth.
posted by Ery at 8:31 AM on March 6, 2011

I minimized this by: leaning forward so nothing runs backwards, spitting and rinsing often, and switching to a hippie baking soda toothpaste that doesn't foam so much. I found that the major brand toothpastes foam up like bubble bath and that triggered my gag reflex every time.
posted by gyusan at 8:43 AM on March 6, 2011

Best answer: I know you've said you tried different toothbrushes, but I had the same problem with every manual toothbrush I tried. What worked was the Oral B rechargeble. Even the Sonicare's brush head is too big, but the Oral B brush head is less than half of the size of a normal toothbrush. Now, it happens occasionally, but nowhere near every day, and my constant parade of cavities in my back teeth has totally stopped.
posted by decathecting at 8:46 AM on March 6, 2011

Maybe try numbing the back of your throat prior to brushing with a spritz or two of Chloraseptic spray and see if that helps. I have a fairly sensitive gag reflex myself (the mere thought of a tongue depresser in my mouth will set it off), and have used this spray with some success.
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:14 AM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had this problem very, very badly (I'd be gagging after about 5-6 seconds of brushing) for a long time. I have a solution, but it's not exactly a common one. (I tried not brushing with toothpaste, tried the Chloraseptic and that was even gaggier than the toothbrush, reading while I brush...nothing worked.)

Eventually my dentist fired me for being too gaggy and he couldn't work on me, so I had to call around. The new dentist had a custom numbing solution (1% dyclonine) that he had people use in the office, and I begged him for some of it for me. He gave me a prescription for a month's worth of it, which I had to go to a custom office to pick up and it cost $50. Happily, this actually trained me out of the whole problem after about 3 weeks, so I'm not regularly hauling ass to the far side of town and spending $50 so I can brush my teeth, and I went through X-rays without puking on Friday, thankyouverymuch. I'm told that the gagging has something to do with my tongue popping up in the middle of the activity, so trying to remember to keep it down helps. I also don't keep my mouth shut for the entire 2 minutes and spit probably at least every 30 seconds because I don't think spit buildup helps a darned thing there.

I should probably point out that (a) my dentist is inventive/geeky and (b) I never had any dentist before who had ANY solutions to gagging whatsoever. They were all, "Uh, I dunno, nobody has a gag problem like you do, just get over it." So I'd ask your dentist first if he has any solutions, and possibly go look for someone else if he has the response that mine usually did.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:52 AM on March 6, 2011

Make a fist with the hand you're not using.

It actually works pretty well.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 11:18 PM on March 7, 2011

Response by poster: I can't afford sprays or anaesthetic solutions. I'm working towards getting an electric toothbrush. (I'm a broke mature-age student who works part-time with 2 kids to support... as cheap as electric toothbrushes are, they can't come before school fees, uniforms, shoes, etc.)

I lean forward over the basin, I simply can't brush my teeth standing upright. It doesn't feel right to be staring into the mirror.

Concentrating on breathing has helped. Stopping and deep-breathing when I feel the gag reflex coming on has helped A LOT, thanx, EmpressC.

Sorry, Earl the Polliwog, making a fist with my left hand made no difference.

I'm still not gag-free, but I'm getting better, and my teeth (and basin) are cleaner thanks to your advice.

Thanx, y'all.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 3:27 AM on March 13, 2011

Response by poster: Concentrating on my breathing did the trick. Deliberately breathing hard through my nose works most days... when it doesn't and I start to gag, I stand up and deep-breathe while looking through the window, then after a few seconds I'm good to go again.

Thanx again.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 7:12 PM on April 5, 2011

« Older Can't be rooted?   |   Where are you going, Bear? Please wait for me! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.