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Swallowing, sometimes called deglutition in scientific contexts, is the process in the human or animal body that makes something pass from the mouth, to the pharynx, and into the esophagus, while shutting the epiglottis. Swallowing is an important part of eating and drinking. If the process fails and the material (such as food, drink, or medicine) goes through the trachea, then choking or pulmonary aspiration can occur. In the human body the automatic temporary closing of the epiglottis is controlled by the swallowing reflex.
The portion of food, drink, or other material that will move through the neck in one swallow is called a bolus.
Eating and swallowing are complex neuromuscular activities consisting essentially of three phases, an oral, pharyngeal and esophageal phase. Each phase is controlled by a different neurological mechanism. The oral phase, which is entirely voluntary, is mainly controlled by the medial temporal lobes and limbic system of the cerebral cortex with contributions from the motor cortex and other cortical areas. The pharyngeal swallow is started by the oral phase and subsequently is co-ordinated by the swallowing center on the medulla oblongata and pons. The reflex is initiated by touch receptors in the pharynx as a bolus of food is pushed to the back of the mouth by the tongue, or by stimulation of the palate (palatal reflex).
Swallowing is a complex mechanism using both skeletal muscle (tongue) and smooth muscles of the pharynx and esophagus. The autonomic nervous system (ANS) coordinates this process in the pharyngeal and esophageal phases.
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