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Arch Oral Biol. 2005 Aug;50(8):739-46. Epub 2005 Feb 26.

The influence of product and oral characteristics on swallowing.

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  • 1Department of Oral-Maxillofacial Surgery, Prosthodontics and Special Dental Care, Oral Physiology Group, University Medical Center, Str. 4.129, P.O. Box 85060, 3508 AB Utrecht, The Netherlands.


The urge to swallow food could be triggered by a threshold level in both food particle size and lubrication of the food bolus. Thus, both oral physiology and product characteristics may influence the swallowing threshold. We quantified the swallowing threshold in a group of 266 healthy adult subjects (age 42 +/- 12 years) by counting the number of chewing cycles needed to prepare food for swallowing. The influence of oral physiology on the swallowing threshold was determined by measuring salivary flow rate, maximum bite force and masticatory performance. We used about 10 cm(3) of bread, toast, melba toast, breakfast cake, peanuts and cheese to determine the influence on the swallowing threshold of various food characteristics, e.g. hardness, moisture and fat. Furthermore, we tested the effect of buttering the bread, toast, melba toast and breakfast cake on the swallowing threshold. Salivary flow rates were significantly and negatively correlated with the number of chewing cycles of melba toast and breakfast cake. Hence, subjects with more saliva needed less chewing cycles for these dry products. Maximum bite force and masticatory performance had an influence on the swallowing threshold for the hard products only (carrot and peanut). Although significant, the correlation coefficients were less than 0.28. Thus, the oral physiology parameters explained less than 10% of the variance in the swallowing threshold. We found significantly different numbers of chewing cycles for the various foods, ranging from 17 for cake to 63 for carrot. Hard and dry products needed more chewing cycles until swallowing. Buttering the food significantly reduced the number of chewing cycles needed before swallowing. This was especially true for the dry products cake, melba toast and toast. Hard and dry products require more chewing cycles and longer time in mouth until swallowing for sufficient breakdown to take place and for enough saliva to be added to form a coherent bolus safe for swallowing. In spite of this, more saliva, higher maximum bite force and better masticatory performance were only weakly correlated with a smaller number of chewing cycles. Butter enhanced lubrication and bolus formation of dry products, thus reducing the number of chewing cycles until swallowing. In conclusion, product characteristics and to a lesser extent oral physiology significantly affect swallowing threshold.

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