Ask most patients about their least favourite part of having a denture reline or a new denture made, and chances are they will mention impressions – and the gag reflex they tend to trigger. But don’t stress out about impressions – there are ways to manage a strong gag reflex!

Dental impressions are an essential part of the process to create a new denture and reline an existing denture. Unfortunately, when your Denturist puts a dental impression tray in your mouth, both the tray and the viscous impression material oozing in your mouth can cause your gag reflex to engage.

This response provides a challenge for Denturists aiming to get an accurate impression, and for patients who experience discomfort and stress around the procedure.

But don’t fret – patience, communication, and calming strategies can help to manage and even overcome a strong gag reflex.

What Causes The Gag Reflex?

Gagging is your body’s way of preventing choking. Outside of normal breathing and swallowing, when something touches the roof of your mouth, the back of your tongue, the area near your tonsils, or the back of your throat, a reflex contraction is triggered to prevent liquids and objects from entering your airway and throat.

Here are some things you and your Denturist can try to lessen your anxiety and reduce your body’s gag response to impressions.

What You Can Do

Tell your Denturist

Let your Denturist know if you have had gag reflex issues before. They may wish to schedule more time for your appointments or prepare themselves to help you through the impressions process. The more open you can be with your Denturist, the greater your chance of impression success.


Your body’s gag response is protective and normal. Rest assured that your body is just doing its job of keeping you safe, so let go of your anxiety attached to this involuntary response.

It may help to know that your Denturist has likely treated other patients with strong gag reflexes. Don’t be worried that you’re too much for them to handle.

Also keep in mind that the entire impressions process will be over in a matter of minutes – at most. The more you can think of the procedure as temporary, the better able you will be to stay calm until the impression tray is removed.

Breathe through your nose

It’s natural to breathe through the mouth when your mouth is open. Unfortunately, your chance of gagging will increase if you attempt to keep your airway open in this way while an impression tray is in your mouth.

Focus on breathing slowly and deeply through your nose during the impression process. If you are stuffed up or have trouble breathing through your nose, you could consider wearing nasal strips or even taking a decongestant to help your airway remain open.

Don’t swallow

No doubt about it, having an impression tray in your mouth will cause you to salivate. You may be tempted to swallow the excess saliva, but that may trigger your gag reflex. Instead, don’t be afraid to drool. It’s not elegant, but you’ll be less likely to gag.

Your Denturist will drape you with a dental bib to keep your clothing mess-free, and give you a tissue so that you can gently dab away saliva as needed.

Create a “traffic jam”

The gag reflex is generally thought to be controlled by the hypothalamus of the brain. We know that other reactions, like taste and touch, are also controllable by the hypothalamus. If we can give the hypothalamus a second signal, it will become bogged down by this “traffic jam” and the gag reflex will decrease.

Here are some ways to distract your gag reflex while your impression is being taken:

  • Make a fist, with your thumb clenched inside your fingers
  • Squeeze or pinch your thumb
  • Squeeze a stress/squish ball
  • Pinch the fleshy point between your thumb and index finger (it’s called the Hegu point)
  • Wiggle your toes
  • Flex your calf muscles
  • Squeeze a chilled gel-filled cold pack

What Your Denturist Can Do

Schedule more time

Patients with strong gag reflexes can relax more when appointments and procedures are not rushed. The more time your Denturist is able to provide to you during procedures like impressions, the more at ease you will be and the better able you will be able to stay calm throughout the appointment.

Sit you up

If you can be seated upright with your head tilted forward, impression material will flow forward rather than toward your throat. The less material toward the back of your mouth, the lower the chance that your gag reflex will be triggered.

Talk to you

Ask your Denturist if they can talk to you while the impression tray is in your mouth. Chances are they can tell a short story or relate an anecdote that will distract you long enough to complete your impression.

We hope these tips will help you curb your fear of gagging and ensure you can access the treatments you need to keep your denture fitting and functioning well!

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