Chewing Difficulties: Causes and Treatments
Chewing is integral to daily life, but it can be difficult for some. Chewing difficulties can be caused by various medical conditions such as TMJ, dental problems, or even mouth-related injuries. Knowing the cause of the difficulty is critical in finding a successful treatment, so let’s take a closer look at the different chewing challenges and treatment options available.
Types of Chewing Difficulties
For many people, chewing is a simple, everyday task that goes unnoticed. However, for some individuals, chewing can be a real challenge. From physical to psychological issues, there are many types of chewing difficulties.
Physical Difficulty Chewing
Physical difficulty chewing is typically caused by medical conditions or bodily injury. This type of difficulty can range from mild to severe. It can significantly impair an individual’s ability to participate in everyday tasks like eating.
Common causes for this difficulty include jaw injury, temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), stroke, Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, Alzheimer’s disease, and neuromuscular disorders. Physical therapy may help reduce discomfort and improve the ability to chew. Dietary modifications such as soft foods and pureed food may also help those with difficulty chewing eat more comfortably.
Psychological Difficulty Chewing
Psychological difficulty chewing is often caused by anxiety around eating or fear of choking. This difficulty affects both adults and children who struggle with mealtime anxiety due to sensory processing challenges or other mental health issues, including depression or PTSD. Psychological difficulty chewing can manifest as a reluctance or refusal to eat or avoidance of certain textures or foods due to fear of choking, vomiting, or feeling overwhelmed by their environment during mealtimes.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is often used to address these challenges, build trust in self-eating skills, and reduce the distress associated with mealtime activities. Additionally, sensory integration therapy may be used when sensory sensitivities contribute to psychological difficulty chewing food items.
Chewing Difficulties Due To Developmental Disabilities
Chewing difficulties due to developmental disabilities often occur in children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Down syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, Williams Syndrome, Rett Syndrome, and other genetic syndromes. These children commonly experience oral motor delays, which result in functional challenges related to feeding skills such as mouth opening/closing; protrusion/retraction; positioning the lips/tongue; lip closure; coordination between tongue movements, and breathing patterns.
Treatments for Chewing Difficulties
The treatment necessary will depend on what is causing the difficulty in the first place. Let us discuss the different treatments for chewing difficulties:
For dental problems such as cavities, bridges, crowns, and other issues, the treatment will depend on what is causing the difficulty. Dentists can recommend specific treatments such as fillings, root canal therapy, or crowns to help improve chewing ability. On the other hand, tooth loss can be addressed with all-on-4 dental implants or dentures to help restore chewing ability. This kind of treatment will be discussed more in-depth with your dentist.
The treatment for TMJ difficulty depends on the cause and severity of the difficulty. In mild cases, proper jaw exercises can help to reduce stiffness and improve chewing ability. For more severe cases, physical therapy and medications may be prescribed by a physician to address any discomfort or pain associated with TMJ disorder.
In cases of mouth-related injuries, treatment may include medications to reduce pain and swelling, as well as physical therapy to improve the range of motion in the jaw. Surgery may be needed to repair damaged structures in the mouth in cases of trauma caused by an accident.
Psychological Difficulty Chewing
Mental health issues can cause psychological difficulty chewing and require psychotherapy to help address underlying feelings or behaviors that are contributing. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is often used to target the specific thoughts and behaviors contributing to the difficulty chewing. Additionally, sensory integration therapy may be used when sensory sensitivities contribute to psychological difficulty chewing food items.
Treatment of chewing difficulties due to developmental disabilities requires a multidisciplinary approach involving physical therapists, occupational therapists, and/or speech-language pathologists to help improve the underlying oral motor skills necessary for successful feeding. Additionally, nutritional counseling may be recommended to ensure children get the proper nutrition for growth and development.
The bottom line
Chewing difficulties can significantly impact someone’s quality of life if not treated appropriately. Knowing which type of treatment is best suited for each individual situation depends on understanding what caused it in the first place—whether it was due to TMJ disorder, dental problems, arthritis/stroke issues, or physical trauma—so that proper care can be administered accordingly. With appropriate treatments available, ranging from physical therapy and splint therapy for TMJ disorder to dentures for dental issues and surgery for physical trauma cases, there is hope for those who experience trouble chewing their food properly again soon!