Path to Dysphagia Diagnosis
  • Carinda Stout, MS CCC/SLP

Mastication: A Closer Look

Speech-Language Pathologists often make comments concerning mastication in clinical and instrumental swallowing assessments such as “prolonged mastication,” “inefficient chewing,” “no rotary jaw movements.”. The issue is there is very little information in our dysphagia textbooks or the literature related to this process. We are left to figure out details on our own.

Chewing represents the beginning of the digestion process. It is the time when food is reduced in size, while saliva moistens the particles and binds the food into a cohesive bolus that can be easily swallowed. The sensory experience of mastication allows the savoring of food tastes and the experience of food texture, which may be the motivation for eating. Efficient chewing requires muscles to cause the jaw to exert the forces necessary to cut or grind the food. The muscle force generated is determined by the texture of the food. More activity occurs with harder foods. Denture wearers display longer chewing times and swallow larger particle sizes. Particle size reduction at time of swallowing is significantly poorer for denture wearers than for their aged dentate counterparts, despite an increase in chewing strokes. Denture adhesive seems to improve mastication abilities. Edentulous individuals tend to avoid foods that are difficult to chew possibly leading to malnutrition. Keep in mind that the tongue also plays a series of important roles in mastication by moving in coordination with the jaw and controlling pressure against the hard palate.

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