Do You Gag When You Have Dental X-Rays?


A new patient recently confided that she had postponed a dental visit for years because of a very uncomfortable gagging response. She is not alone. Patients who experience the sensation of choking during dental treatments tend to avoid regular dental exams. The problem is that they risk becoming more susceptible to tooth decay and other serious problems. 

Most gagging problems can be resolved if a few steps are taken. If you have a gagging problem, tell your dentist. If we know which procedures or situations have triggered gagging in the past, we can focus on ways to prevent the reflex.

Dental X-Rays

One of the most common triggers of gagging is the dental x-ray – especially the bitewing of the back teeth. We do try to make this experience as quick and easy as possible. It usually takes only a few seconds to take a bitewing x-ray.

How to Stop a Gag Reflex

Here are some techniques that have proven to help you stay calm and prevent your gag reflex from going off:

Controlled Breathing

A common complaint is that the bitewing makes it hard to breathe through your mouth which triggers the gag reflex. One way to prevent the gag reflex is to control your breathing:

  • Breathe through your nose, or
  • Hold your breath until the x-ray is done, or
  • Breathe slowly through your mouth and or/hum while the bitewing is in place.

Numbing the Throat and Tongue

Your dentist may use a topical anesthetic spray to numb the throat and tongue slightly. This will make you less likely to feel the x-ray and, therefore, make you less likely to gag.


There are various techniques that force you to concentrate on something other than the x-ray. Many patients find that listening to music or doing leg lifts in the chair distract enough to prevent gagging.

Alternative Techniques

For patients whose gag response to intra-oral x-rays is severe, a panoramic x-ray which keeps the film outside the mouth can be used.

If your gag reflex is preventing you from getting the dental care you need, contact your dentist. Discuss the various options for reducing or preventing the discomfort of gagging. Don’t risk the potential problems that result from skipping dental exams and treatments.

Remember, beautiful teeth are healthy teeth!

Dr. Nishan Halim

Nishan Halim, DMD specializes in adult and pediatric dentistry in his Capitol Hill, Washington DC neighborhood dental center. As a family dentist he takes extra time with new patients to remove the stress and anxiety from the dental experience. You can schedule your introductory first appointment with him online.

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