General Advice

Digestion begins from the mouth!

Digestion begins from the mouth!

My teenage son is having a growth spurt and has been growing like a weed for a while. He can eat as much as adults can eat or more. I am very happy that he is not too picky about what he eats, but I am a bit concerned about HOW he eats. He eats very fast, such that the foods he eats may not be digested properly.

There are two main groups of the digestive system and they are: 1.the alimentary canal (gastrointestinal tract) and 2. the accessory digestive organs.

Gastrointestinal tract (GI tract) includes: 1) the mouth, 2) pharynx, 3) esophagus, 4) stomach, 5) small intestine, and 6) large intestine to the anus.

Digestion does not only refer to the “stomach and intestines”. The digestion process actually begins as soon as food enters the mouth!

What is in your mouth? The mouth contains: 1) teeth, 2) tongue, 3) salivary glands, and 4) saliva. When you put food in your mouth, they all have important roles to play in order to start the digestion process.


Generally, we all have 32 teeth (including wisdom teeth) which are used to chew and break down food. It is very important to chew well before food goes down the pharynx. I’ve heard it suggested to chew food 30-50 times and up to 70 times for better digestion.


The tongue mixes food and saliva during chewing, then it initiates swallowing. There are taste receptors (taste buds) found on the tongue surface, it allows us to enjoy and appreciate foods.

Salivary Glands:

There are three pairs and they are: 1) Parotid gland, 2) Sublingual gland, and 3) Submandibular gland.


It helps moisten foods and turns them into a mass called the bolus. It contains the enzyme called Amylase which encourages the start of the process of starch digestion. It also contains substances (lysozyme and antibodies) to inhibit bacteria.

The important point here is that the more you chew foods, the more saliva would be created and produce more enzyme to enhance digestion. In other words, when you are having digestion problems, you should be eating regular foods that require more chewing rather than soft foods or soup. Moreover, you can eat healthy whole foods, but if these good foods are not chewed enough to break down and be mixed with digestive enzymes before leaving the oral cavity, chances are, other organs have to work harder to process digestion.

I encourage you to be aware when you put food in your mouth. The first step for optimal digestive health starts right there.

All is well and all the best!