What are chewing and swallowing disorders?

Swallowing and chewing are essential to life and most individuals do not have issues. However, some individuals are born or develop chewing and/or swallowing issues due to various medical conditions.

Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) means it takes more time and effort to move food or liquid from your mouth to your stomach. Dysphagia may also be associated with pain. In some cases, swallowing may be impossible.

Occasional difficulty swallowing, which may occur when you eat too fast or don’t chew your food well enough, usually isn’t cause for concern. But persistent dysphagia may indicate a serious medical condition requiring treatment.

How common are issues with chewing and swallowing?

Dysphagia can occur at any age, but it’s more common in older adults. The causes of swallowing problems vary, and treatment depends on the cause.

Signs and symptoms of chewing and swallowing issues

Some of the common signs of dysphagia include:

  • Choking when eating.
  • Coughing or gagging when swallowing.
  • Drooling.
  • Food or stomach acid backing up into the throat.
  • Recurrent heartburn.
  • Hoarseness.
  • Sensation of food getting stuck in the throat or chest, or behind the breastbone.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Bringing food back up (regurgitation).
  • Difficulty controlling food in the mouth.
  • Difficulty starting the swallowing process.
  • Recurrent pneumonia.
  • Inability to control saliva in the mouth.

Treatment for chewing and swallowing issues

A speech pathologist can help with chewing and swallowing issue by suggesting:

  • feeding therapy
  • different foods – possibly with more calories
  • methods for getting your child to try different textures
  • changing the temperature or texture of food
  • changing your child’s posture while eating
  • reinforcement or behavioral changes
  • referrals to other specialists

You speech pathologist may also provide feeding or swallowing treatment to:

  • work on strengthening the muscles of the mouth
  • tongue exercises
  • work on chewing
  • introduce new foods and drinks including different textures and thickness
  • work on drinking from a cup and straw
  • work on breathing while sucking and swallowing
  • work on behaviors
  • work on sensory issues

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