The mouth is the first stage of digestion. Breaking down food and mixing it with some enzymes aids in what is to follow. The main purpose of eating is to consume and absorb the nutrients our bodies need to stay healthy. Chewing your food well will support your digestion.
A full complement of teeth, well-aligned with healthy saliva flow and healthy jaw joints are also central to achieving the optimal first step for digestion.
The physical process of chewing food in your mouth helps to break down larger particles of food into smaller particles, increasing the surface area and making it easier for nutrients to be broken down for absorption.
Chewing helps to reduce stress on the oesophagus and helps the stomach metabolise and break down your food. Saliva also contains digestive enzymes that are released when chewing which assists with digestion. Your mouth releases these enzymes that pass into the throat and stomach which further improves the digestive process.
Throughout the chewing process, the body undergoes several processes that trigger digestion. Digestion is one of the most energy-consuming processes of the body, so chewing your food well helps prepare the rest of the body.
Chewing also reduces the risk of bacterial overgrowth – lumps of food that aren’t broken down properly can cause bacterial overgrowth in the colon, which leads to indigestion, bloating, flatulence and constipation.
Chewing your food sends messages to the gastrointestinal system that food is on its way. This triggers hydrochloric acid production in the stomach, helping food move through the digestive tract. Chewing food thoroughly also helps relax the stomach by releasing saliva and allows the food to be passed efficiently into the intestines. This occurs once the stomach has done its work to break down proteins.
Apart from improving digestion and the absorption of nutrients, chewing your food longer also has the benefit of giving your body a chance to process the fact that you are eating and consuming food. It has a positive impact on controlling weight gain.
So, a well-functioning, well-balanced masticatory system, otherwise known as your mouth is an essential first step in good chewing and good digestion.
Often the appearance of the teeth and mouth can give a clue as to underlying digestive problems, like indigestion, reflux and heartburn.
Chewing your food from an early age, together with consuming a nutrient-dense diet is vital for creating enough space for all of the 32 teeth we have evolved to have – 16 teeth in the upper jaw; 16 teeth in the lower jaw.
The size and shape of your mouth determine the size and shape of your upper airway, which in turn affects your ability to breathe well and sleep well.