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Not long after Debbie McClure was diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome, an immune system disorder that causes dry mouth, she sat down to a roast beef dinner. She was still adjusting to her condition. So she didn’t fully realize how not having enough saliva, which helps move food from the mouth and down the throat, would make it hard to swallow, especially with dry foods -- like her overcooked roast beef.  

“I attempted to swallow a bite, but it lodged in my throat,” says McClure, a writer based in Ontario, Canada. She grabbed a glass of water and, sip by sip, she was able to dislodge the piece of meat.

When a medical condition creates problems with chewing or swallowing, the simple act of eating can become anything but. Pain in the mouth, stiffness or discomfort in the jaw muscles, or problems with your teeth can make it tough to chew solid foods. A condition called dysphagia can create a delay in the swallowing process in either your throat or what’s known as the pharynx (the digestive tube between the esophagus and mouth) that might also make it hard for you to swallow without coughing or choking.

“If you’re having trouble swallowing, even if it’s pills, you should let your physician know,” says Brian Hedman, a speech pathologist and specialist in swallowing disorders at Cleveland Clinic. “A speech pathologist can do an assessment and offer tricks or techniques to help you or someone you’re caring for to swallow safely.”

Try these six tips to make sure that what you eat gets where it’s going without problems along the way.

1. Tweak the 3 Ts

They are tastes, temperature, and textures. When you vary these in your diet, it helps keep the mouth awake and on task, Hedman says.

Switch off between bites of something cold and tart, like lemon ice, with something warm and bland, like mashed potatoes. 

2. Sit Upright

During meals, and for 45 to 60 minutes after eating, aim for a 90-degree posture with your head tilted slightly forward, Hedman suggests.

“If you’re having difficulty getting food from the front of the mouth to the back of the mouth, try a reclined position,” he says. “Otherwise, sitting upright is the best position for eating and drinking.”