Swallowing is a very complex process. People swallow an average of 580 times a day. There are about 50 pairs of muscles and many nerves that all must work properly to move food from the mouth to the stomach.
This happens in three stages.
- Stage 1 - The tongue moves the food around in the mouth for chewing. Chewing grinds the food the right size to swallow and helps mix the food with saliva.
- Stage 2 - The tongue pushes the food or liquid to the back of the mouth, which triggers a swallowing reflex that passes the food through the pharynx (the canal that connects the mouth with the esophagus). During this stage, the larynx (voice box) closes tightly and breathing stops to prevent food or liquid from entering the lungs.Problems in this stage can lead to aspiration and respiratory infection.
- Stage 3 - Food or liquid enters the esophagus, the canal that carries food and liquid to the stomach.
To learn more about the swallowing process and issues, read Swallowing Problems in Adults (.pdf) published by the American Speech-Language Hearing Association.