Swallowing is made up of dynamic stages.
Here’s a summary of those stages in usual swallowing in adults[i];
Depending what and how you eat and drink, some of these stages are happening all at the same time. And it usually happens fast when there are no difficulties. It takes 1 second to pass through the throat and 5 to 6 seconds through the gullet[ii].
Swallowing requires a conscious effort, but most of it is subconscious or ‘reflexive’[iii]. And approximately 50 pairs of muscles and nerves are involved in the whole swallow process.
Here’s what swallowing looks like when a young man is taking a drink during videofluoroscopy – a moving x-ray of the swallow.
Most of the time, we all manage to eat and drink safely.
When something goes wrong, that’s dysphagia.
[i] Matsuo, K., & Palmer, J. B. 2008. Anatomy and physiology of feeding and swallowing: normal and abnormal. Physical medicine and rehabilitation clinics of North America, 19(4), 691–vii. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pmr.2008.06.001
[ii] Goyal, R.K. and Mashimo, H. 2006. Physiology of oral, pharyngeal, and esophageal motility. GI Motility online. doi:10.1038/gimo1
[iii] Massey, B.T. 2006. Physiology of oral cavity, pharynx and upper esophageal sphincter. GI Motility online. doi:10.1038/gimo2