Some people avoid the dentist because of a tendency to gag: Visits can literally make them throw up. Now, a small study suggests that putting pressure on the palm of the hand makes gagging less likely in the dental chair.
Researchers from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, did the study. Thirty-six college students enrolled. Nine of them (17%) were found to have a very sensitive gag reflex. The researchers created a device that applied two pounds of force to a point in the center of the palm. They tested it three times on each person.
People gagged less easily while the pressure was applied. In particular, the gag reflex was less likely to occur when areas toward the front of the mouth were touched. This effect was seen in people with a sensitive gag reflex, as well as those with an average one.
The researchers also did a "sham treatment" before testing the palm pressure device. They put a bracelet around each person's wrist and said they were testing an anti-nausea treatment. They did not tell the people in the study what the palm pressure device was for. During the sham treatment, there was no change in the gag reflex for either the normal or the sensitive group.
The study is the first of its kind to test the idea that pressure on a trigger point in the palm helps reduce gagging. No research has been done on how this pressure point might affect the nerves that are stimulated during the gag reflex. Studies are under way.
The study appears in the October issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association.