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Dysphagia Symptoms: What Causes Them?

Do you have difficulty swallowing? This symptom, known as dysphagia, is a common problem. It affects 1 in 25 American adults every year, reports the American Academy of Otolaryngology. Many symptoms can be associated with dysphagia, and the treatment options vary depending on the cause of the problem.

Dysphagia Symptoms

Dysphagia is associated with a number of signs and symptoms. The Mayo Clinic explains that people with dysphagia may experience pain when they swallow, and may cough or gag when they swallow. In some cases, sufferers aren't able to swallow at all.

People with dysphagia may also experience frequent heartburn and may feel stomach acid or food backing up into their throats. Further symptoms include drooling or having a hoarse throat. Weight loss can also occur due to the eating difficulties associated with dysphagia.

Possible Causes of Dysphagia

Dysphagia is a symptom of other conditions, and your dentist and doctor can help you determine its cause. Dysphagia can be a symptom of conditions like diabetes, strokes, tumors and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It can also occur as a side effect of chemotherapy treatment.

Dental issues are also associated with dysphagia. The University of Maryland Medical Center reports that poorly maintained teeth or dentures are a risk factor for dysphagia. Taking good care of your teeth is a crucial part of preventing swallowing problems, so brush twice a day with Colgate Cavity Protection toothpaste, which strengthens teeth with active fluoride and fights cavities. If you wear dentures, see your dentist regularly to have them evaluated and adjusted.

To determine the cause of your dysphagia, your doctor may need to perform a variety of tests, such as an endoscopy, to diagnose your condition. During an endoscopy, a technician inserts a tube with a camera on the end down the throat to view and evaluate the esophagus.

Treatment Options

After a cause has been determined, treatment for dysphagia can begin. The National Health Service (NHS) reassures patients that most swallowing problems can be treated. In some cases, treating the underlying cause can help make swallowing easier. This can be the case when cancers of the mouth or esophagus are to blame for the swallowing problems.

When swallowing problems are caused by issues in the mouth or throat, there are three main treatment options, explains the NHS.

  • Swallowing therapy may be used to teach you swallowing exercises to make swallowing easier.
  • Dietary changes, like eating thicker fluids and softer foods that are easier to swallow, can also be helpful.
  • Feeding tubes can be used, both as a short-term and long-term solution.

When swallowing problems are caused by issues in the esophagus, medication may be recommended. For example, if indigestion is to blame for the dysphagia, medications like proton pump inhibitors may be prescribed. Surgery is another possible treatment option.

If your teeth or dentures are contributing to your dysphagia, your dentist can help. For example, if your dentures don't fit well and are interfering with your swallowing, their fit may be adjusted or they may be replaced.

When to Seek Medical Attention

Everyone gets a lump in their throat occasionally, and you may sometimes have trouble swallowing if you eat too fast or don't chew your food thoroughly enough. This type of occasional dysphagia isn't usually cause for concern. Dysphagia becomes a concern when it is ongoing issue and gets in the way of your daily activities. If you're regularly having trouble eating or drinking due to dysphagia, it's time to see your doctor for an evaluation.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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