We believe every person should be given an opportunity to enjoy a full meal!

Dysphagia and the Swallow Mechanism

  • Dysphagia is any problem with sucking, swallowing, drinking, chewing, eating, lip closure, tongue movement, jaw stability, controlling saliva, or protecting the lungs from food/liquid.
  • Swallowing uses 26 muscles to coordinate the timing needed to safely swallow. It is commonly divided into the oral, pharyngeal, and esophageal stages according to the location of the bolus. The swallowing mechanism in the throat is comprised of two branches with one leading to the stomach through the esophagus where food and liquid pass, and the other is used for breathing and leads to the voice box and lungs. Issues with coordination and functioning of the muscles can lead to food or liquid going down the wrong way.

Who is at risk

  • Swallowing difficulties and oral motor dysfunction can occur from the time of birth and effect individuals across the lifespan. For children and babies, this could mean not getting enough nutrients to support growth and brain development.
  • Babies born prematurely, and those with heart defects or damage to the brain (e.g., cerebral palsy) often have swallowing problems. Children with abnormalities in the structures of the head, neck, and face such as cleft lip or palate may also have difficulty feeding. Amongst children with a diagnosis of cerebral palsy, more than 90% are estimated to have clinically significant oral motor dysfunction impacting their speech and feeding development. Early intervention is key.

Treatment Program

  • Treatment programs vary depending on the individual needs of each client. We work with any client who displays oral-motor difficulties as compared to their typically developing peers for feeding and speech. This includes reduced mobility, reduced agility, reduced precision, and reduced endurance of the articulators. Oral motor therapy is utilized to improve tone deficits, jaw stability and posturing for oral phase of feeding and speech production.
  • For individuals with oropharyngeal dysphagia, VitalStim Therapy is administered. This is one of very few treatment options available for children with pharyngeal dysphagia and is the only technology approved by the FDA for restoring swallowing function in individuals with oropharyngeal dysphagia. VitalStim Therapy is used to promote swallowing through the application of Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (NMES) to the swallowing muscles in conjunction with conventional swallowing exercises. The goal is to strengthen and reeducate the muscular system and improve motor control of the swallowing mechanism. The lasting effect of Vital Stim was validated in a three-year study submitted to the FDA, which showed the improvement in swallowing function was maintained throughout this time. Other published studies have shown the positive and lasting impact of Vital Stim in groups where previous attempts at treatment with conventional therapy had failed.
  • The Elite Swallow Rehabilitation program looks at the individual needs of each client to determine the best exercises and strategies for successful eating/drinking. Therapy programs vary from weekly sessions to intensive blocks of intervention consisting of daily treatments. Call or email us for more information and to discuss your child’s needs.

Give us a call today to speak to one of our speech pathologists!