Swallowing is complex
For such an important task swallowing is a very complicated process. Here we are talking about getting food and drink into the mouth, as well as the action itself. For the body to be able to use the nutrition available in food the following actions must be successful:
- The co-ordination of the eyes and muscles to use tools, pick things up and move them to the mouth
- The strength of muscles in the mouth to hold food and drink so that it can be dealt with effectively
- Well preserved teeth to process foods of different textures
- The co-ordination, strength and endurance of muscles in the mouth and upper throat
- The effective movement of protective systems which ensure food and drinks follow the correct route
Things can easily go wrong
Everyday things can affect any of these processes. such as:
- Damage to the mouth caused by abrasions, burns or infection
- Damage to the bones and muscles of the hands, arms, torso, neck and head
- Short term infections, illnesses and the actions of medication
- Poor oral hygeine or ill fitting dentures
- Short term reduction in sight caused by infections, illness or incorrect glasses
Although these problems might be short term simple changes to the way you approach mealtimes will help. Adaptations will allow you to maintain a balanced diet, reduce the risk of weight loss, improve recovery and stay hydrated.
Sadly, there are times when difficulty swallowing, known as dysphagia, is a more long term problem; a result of a disease or condition. The most common condition causing swallowing difficulties is stroke occurring in up to 81% of cases*. The many effects of suffering a stroke can reduce the abilities at every stage of swallowing. This may not remain a life long problem however some major adjustments mightbe needed.
There are many simple adaptations which can be made for both short and longer term difficulties. In this section we will have a look at some of the more common changes that can occur and how to spot the signs of a problem. We will show you the choices you can make that will allow you to maintain a balanced, healthy and enjoyable relationship with food.