News article

Understanding the evolution of mastication can help good infant nutrition and support healthy eating habits

Posted:  Thursday, July 10, 2014

Nestlé Research recently shared its research into the ‘Evolution of Mastication’ through an article published in The British Journal of Nutrition and a poster at Experimental Biology 2014 to highlight the importance of adapting foods for infants and toddlers to their changing chewing ability.

The development of feeding skills is a complex process influenced by four main factors:

  • Anatomy
  • Neurophysiology
  • Environment, and
  • Society and culture.

Feeding skills are therefore investigated by two fields of science: (i) the behavioral science of feeding and (ii) the biomechanics of feeding (e.g. chewing and swallowing), with a particular emphasis on the first approach.

Foods for infants and toddlers are currently recommended based on motor and eating skills described by Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs) and feeding expert specialists. The biomechanical characterization of the mastication and its development has been less addressed whereas it could bring a new insight in the design of developmentally appropriated food.

From birth to 4 years, the mouth undergoes substantial anatomical changes.In addition to the ability to fit larger pieces of food in their mouth, children are also able to crush harder foods with age because of more muscle mass and eruption of molar teeth. They are also better able at coordinating their jaw movements and the opening and closing muscles of mastication.

Recommending products that are adapted to children’s mastication during weaning could facilitate children’s acceptance of new textures and support the development of healthy eating habits.

Thorough chewing has also been shown to help digestion and enhances absorption of nutrients. Stimulation of chewing also helps in the preparation of the space for permanent dentition.

Read The British Journal of Nutrition article