This is another useful function performed by the throat. Swallowing is an essential process in the body which enables something, i.e. food to pass from the mouth into the oesophagus via the throat. This is aided by the epiglottis – a thin flap of tissue covered cartilage which closes the larynx and stops food from accessing the trachea.

However, the process of swallowing takes place long before you eat or drink. Knowing that you are about to eat or drink triggers the saliva glands to produce saliva which is needed to break down food so that it can be easily digested via the throat. We use our teeth and saliva to chew food to the point where it is able to slip down the throat and down to the oesophagus and stomach. The tongue is also involved in this process and helps to push the small particles of food up and down the throat.

Whilst this is happening the epiglottis closes off the larynx to prevent food from entering the windpipe (trachea) and into the lungs. If food accidentally gets into the windpipe it can cause choking and coughing, and if it enters the lungs it can lead to infections such as pneumonia.

The swallowing process requires the co-operation of a range of muscles within the mouth, pharynx and oesophagus.

Description of the swallowing process

To start with: food is masticated to the point where it forms a small ball which is then pushed by the tongue towards the throat. The pharynx then prepares to receive this food.

The larynx lifts and moves forward and at the same time, the epiglottis moves into a horizontal position to prevent food from entering and travelling through here and into the lungs.

At the same time the soft palate lifts and closes the opening to the nose.

As the food begins its journey down the pharynx it is helped on its way by muscles within this structure. These muscles help to push the food through here and into the oesophagus.

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