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What is EFT?

Sept. 1, 2011
Does it really work for even the worst gaggers?

Does it really work for even the worst gaggers?

by Tara L. Menard, RDH

Yes! I have been using this simple, creative approach with my patients for the past five years with great success. Hmm …EFT ... what is it?

The Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) was originally to be used in the psychotherapy profession. It is a form of acupressure that uses gentle tapping to stimulate traditional Chinese acupuncture points. The mapping out of our energy acupuncture points dates back 5,000 years. It is based on the belief that imbalances exist within the body’s energy system and, in turn, have a profound effect on one’s own personal psychology. Tapping on specific points of the face and body is combined with identifying the problem, followed by a general phrase of affirmation. With EFT the body’s subtle energy systems become balanced and there appears to be relief from psychological stress and physical discomfort.

This technique has helped my patients of all ages, including children, who have mild to severe gag reflexes. Have you ever noticed all the objections surrounding radiographs? Many patients will forego intraoral radiographs, offering various excuses involving time and money. However, in my 22 years of practice I have found that most of the time this reluctance to have radiographs stems from the feeling that patients don’t like foreign objects in their mouth. Even with modern technology, a full series of radiographs is still uncomfortable, especially to kinesthetic patients, and the procedure often induces gagging.

Think about the gagging process for a moment: the eyes begin to water, perspiration appears on the forehead, gagging begins, and you try to hold it back. Anxiety sets in because you feel sick to your stomach, and the fear of vomiting grows stronger. This is not a pleasant experience to have in the dental chair during what you envisioned as a well visit. How does an experience like this affect the enthusiasm a patient may have toward his or her next recare visit?

The science behind EFT

There is a science behind EFT; however, my purpose is to share a simple, easy-to-implement technique and to add another tool to your repertoire. I have witnessed success using EFT with my patients over and over again. Honestly, anxiety over the dental procedure vanishes within minutes. Why does EFT work for gagging? My hypothesis is, many patients have a negative memory (focus) about foreign objects in their mouth due to a past experience that creates a disruption in the body’s energy system, which in turn produces a result – gagging and/or anxiety. By using this gentle tapping, not only are you balancing the energy flow through the body, but you are also creating a pattern to interrupt an old conditioned response.

A word of caution

I will briefly describe a basic "recipe" for using the tapping technique. What I found is that you can further modify the recipe to suit your patient. A more detailed description of the process will follow. Please keep in mind that EFT is not meant to replace standard medical or psychological care/counseling. Although this technique may not have documentation as to negative side effects, this does not mean you may not experience any side effects at all. Remember, you must take full responsibility for your own well-being while using such techniques, and you must advise your patients to do so as well.

Explanation through diagrams

The following two diagrams show the acupressure points about the face and hand that I use when applying this technique specifically for the gag reflex during a serious of radiographs.

  • At the beginning of the eyebrow, just above and to one side of the nose. This point is abbreviated EB for beginning of the eyebrow.
  • On the bone bordering the outside corner of the eye. This point is abbreviated SE for side of the eye.
  • On the bone under an eye about one inch below your pupil. This point is abbreviated UE for under the eye.
  • On the small area between the bottom of your nose and the top of your upper lip. This point is abbreviated UN for under the nose.1
  • The last point is the karate chop point. It is located in the middle of the fleshy part on the outside of the hand between the top of the wrist bone and the base of the baby finger. It is abbreviated KC for karate chop.2

The basic recipe

  1. Setup statement: Name the problem combined with an affirmation phrase. Speak to the patient with a gentle, calming tone that conveys certainty in the usefulness of the Emotional Freedom Technique. "I am going to use this tapping technique called EFT, the Emotional Freedom Technique. OK? I have used it on all my patients who gag with X-rays just like you. Even the most severe gaggers are amazed by the fact that with this technique they are able to have X-rays taken without gagging."
  2. Show the patient the karate chop point and have him or her tap about seven times while restating the setup statement. You can have the patient state the problem and an affirmation out loud (three times). I usually have patients tap while I affirm to them that even though they have gagged in the past, this process really works. At this time I also share with them other results EFT may bring about.
  3. Sequence: Most EFT courses will teach you to use all energy points of the face and body and tap seven to 10 times in a specific sequence. For purposes in the dental chair, focus on the facial energy points. Show patients the EB, SE, UE, and CH points. At first, place the patient’s index and middle fingers on the EB point on the opposite side of the face in which you are taking radiographs. With each new film placement, move to the next point and start tapping. As the film is placed, the patient is ready. Instruct the patient to start tapping that point, and as you leave the room say tap, tap, tap, tap, ...
  4. Repetition: Positive tapping sequence continues with each facial energy point. The focus is now on the positive results the patient is experiencing and new outcomes.

Do your research and give it a tap

In conclusion, there are many resources available online to further research EFT. It is a simple, noninvasive, creative approach to help provide better care for your patients. Incorporate this simple technique today in your dental practice and create raving fans. You’ll be glad you did.

As one hygienist put it, "I couldn’t believe my eyes that my patient didn’t gag even once, and all the pictures came out great! He has such a severe gag reflex that we were going to give him palatal injections to get him through it. Even my patient was astonished!"

With that patient I taught her the Emotional Freedom Technique. But don’t take my word for it – do your research and give it a tap.

Tara L. Menard, RDH, Tara has been in dental practice for over 23 years with a focus in dental hygiene for over 17 years. She is the Hygiene Mastery Coach of Boston and the owner of Growth Point Strategic Coaching. She is based in Fall River, Mass., and can be contacted at [email protected].


  1. Craig GH. The EFT Manual, Sixth Edition, p. 23.
  2. Craig GH. The EFT Manual, Sixth Edition, p. 22.
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