People typically swallow hundreds of times every day, both in order to ingest foods and liquids and clear the mouth and throat of saliva and naturally-occurring mucus. You likely don’t think about it as you’re enjoying your lunch or a warm cup of tea, but there are 4 actions to every swallow:

  1. Oral preparation: This is where the food or drink is in your mouth. Solid foods you chew so they are easier to swallow. You also may manipulate or swish liquids or semi-liquid foods to get the full taste before swallowing.
  2. Oral stage: Your tongue pushes the food or liquid to the back of your mouth in order to initiate the swallowing response.
  3. Pharyngeal stage: The food or liquid quickly passes through the pharynx and into the esophagus.
  4. Esophagus stage: The food or liquid then passes through the esophagus and into the stomach, where it can be digested.

While you are able to have control over the first two stages (although you may not typically consciously think about it), stages 3 and 4 are involuntary.

Difficulty swallowing, or dysphagia, occurs when there is difficulty passing food from the mouth into the stomach. We’ll discuss dysphagia more next week, the causes, symptoms, and treatment options.

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