Digestion 101: The Importance of Chewing Well

Digestion 101: The Importance of Chewing Well


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 reduces bacteria risk

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.

People don’t chew their food well for many reasons:

  • Impatience & stress!
    The most obvious is if you are in a hurry. Eating food “on the run”, in a rush or while stressed is a bad idea. If you eat while you are stressed, the part of our autonomic nervous system called the sympathetic nervous system – the ‘fight-and-flight’ reaction – also reduces blood flow to the digestive tract, so you are less likely to absorb the nutrients.
  • Poor Bite
    Missing teeth and/or teeth that are poorly aligned reduce your ability to chew effectively. While this is not something people are usually conscious of, it just doesn’t feel right and subconsciously, is not an easy or pleasant feeling so eating quickly is an easy way out. Compare the two sets of teeth from patients to see which would be easier to eat with.

Chewing teeth

  • Jaw joints
    The temporomandibular or jaw joint is located just in front of the middle ear and separates the jaw bone (mandible) from the skull (temporal bone). What separates these bones is a disc, a pressure bearing structure that is ideal for taking a load, free of nerves or blood vessels. A clicking jaw joint indicates that the disc is out of place and the click you hear when opening or chewing is the sound of the disc actually going into and out of place. People are aware of it as a ’clicking jaw joint’ and it is referred to as an “anteriorly displaced disc with reduction” (i.e., the disc displacement is reduced or goes into place, but only momentarily). When a disc is out of place, as you chew there can be compensations made and one of those may be to eat quickly before the jaw gets too tired.

Digestion 101: The Importance of Chewing Well

  • Mouth breathing
    Noses are for breathing BUT if you are a mouth-breather then this can create a ‘problem’ when you eat. It is socially unacceptable to eat with your mouth open; poor form to say the least. Ideally, you should breathe 8-12 breaths per minute through your nose, which is not only good for your general health but also allows you to chew food slowly.
    If you are a mouth-breather and have difficulty breathing through your nose and still want to maintain friendships while you eat, then wolfing the food down so that you can breathe without a mouthful of food may be the solution! This is not ideal.
  • Worn teeth
    The shape of the tooth and the way the upper and lower teeth meet makes for an extremely effective cutting or masticatory tool.

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.