Swallowing is triggered when a food bolus being prepared by mastication has reached a defined state. However, although this view is consensual and well supported, the physical properties of the swallowable bolus have been under-researched. We tested the hypothesis that measuring bolus physical changes during the masticatory sequence to deglutition would reveal the bolus properties potentially involved in swallowing initiation.
Twenty normo-dentate young adults were instructed to chew portions of cereal and spit out the boluses at different times in the masticatory sequence. The mechanical properties of the collected boluses were measured by a texture profile analysis test currently used in food science. The median particle size of the boluses was evaluated by sieving. In a simultaneous sensory study, twenty-five other subjects expressed their perception of bolus texture dominating at any mastication time.
Several physical changes appeared in the food bolus as it was formed during mastication: (1) in rheological terms, bolus hardness rapidly decreased as the masticatory sequence progressed, (2) by contrast, adhesiveness, springiness and cohesiveness regularly increased until the time of swallowing, (3) median particle size, indicating the bolus particle size distribution, decreased mostly during the first third of the masticatory sequence, (4) except for hardness, the rheological changes still appeared in the boluses collected just before swallowing, and (5) physical changes occurred, with sensory stickiness being described by the subjects as a dominant perception of the bolus at the end of mastication.
Although these physical and sensory changes progressed in the course of mastication, those observed just before swallowing seem to be involved in swallowing initiation. They can be considered as strong candidates for sensory inputs from the bolus that are probably crucially involved in the triggering of swallowing, since they appeared in boluses prepared in various mastication strategies by different subjects.