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Gagging gives insight into dental phobia

Most dentists know what it is like to have a patient who is nervous, or even terrified, about visiting their practice. In some cases this is understandable: the patient might be in for a serious and complicated procedure. However, for some people a simple check-up might be enough to get them trembling.

It has never been entirely clear why this is. Some studies have suggested that the sound and atmosphere of a dental practice is enough to remind patients of potentially painful procedures, which in turn inspires fear. However, a new study suggests something different might be causing the phobia.

A study in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) looked at 478 people, and found that almost half of them reported gagging when they visited the dentist. A total of 7.5 per cent reported gagging “almost always or always”.

Interested in this development, the researchers looked for trends linking the gagging patients. They found that there was no real frequency in terms of sex, age or education. However, there was quite a clear link between gagging and fear of going to the dentist. The more likely people were to gag, the more afraid of the dentist they were as a rule.

Furthermore, the trigger for gagging also appears to play a part. Those with a lower tolerance for gagging, who would do so when faced with “less-intrusive stimuli” such as a dentist putting fingers in their mouth, were more afraid of the dentist than those who had a higher tolerance.

This all suggests that gagging, which is an unpleasant sensation, plays a key role in how people experience a visit to the dentist. The association of painful gagging with dental procedures can make people uncomfortable, and understandably so.

The article stated: “It may be helpful for providers to assess patients’ propensity for gagging, which can be a barrier to treatment. By targeting dental care–related fear… clinicians may be able to help reduce gagging in frequency or intensity, potentially making treatment more comfortable for patients and easier for dental care providers.”

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