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Dysphagia and dentistry

From Volume 41, Issue 5, June 2014 | Pages 413-422


Charlotte Curl

BDS(Hons), FDS RCS(Eng) DSCD RCS(Eng), PgDipClinEd FHEA

Senior Dental Officer, Dental Department, Hainault Health Centre, Manford Way, Chigwell, Essex IG7 4DF

Articles by Charlotte Curl

Carole Boyle


Consultant and Honorary Senior Lecturer in Special Care Dentistry; Clinical Lead, Department of Sedation and Special Care Dentistry, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, London

Articles by Carole Boyle


Dysphagia is defined as a ‘difficulty in swallowing’ and is commonly found in the general population, particularly in the elderly. This article gives an overview of the more frequently encountered swallowing disorders and provides advice on how to manage the dysphagic patient in the dental surgery.

Clinical Relevance: By identifying patients with dysphagia and being aware of the potential problems that the clinician may experience when treating them, the risk of aspiration, choking and healthcare-acquired upper respiratory tract infections may be reduced.


Dysphagia is a medical term defined as a ‘difficulty in swallowing’ and can include saliva, liquids and foods of all consistencies.1 It derives from the Greek root dys meaning difficulty or disordered, and phagia meaning ‘to eat’. It describes difficulties in the oral preparation of food for swallowing or moving the bolus from the mouth to the stomach so may include difficulties in positioning of food in the mouth and oral movements. Dysphagia is distinguished from similar symptoms including odynophagia, which is defined as painful swallowing, and globus, which is the sensation of a lump in the throat.

Swallowing is a process by which food and liquid move from the mouth, down through the back of the throat, through the oesophagus and into the stomach. It is estimated that each individual swallows between 500 and 2000 times per day and it occurs during sleep and in utero.

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