Suffering From Swallowing Disorders? 3D Printing Food Can Help

For those who suffer from swallowing disorders, the options for nutrition are severely limited. In many cases, patients may only tolerate specific textures to ensure adequate nutritional intake and safety. Approximately 1 in 20 Americans have a swallowing disorder, with over 10 million being evaluated for swallowing difficulties each year, according to the National Foundation for Swallowing Disorders.


Image: Rainbow 2013-055, Frédérique Voisin-Demery/ CC by 2.0

Speech pathologists generally recommend that patients with dysphagia eat mostly pureed, minced and moist, or soft and bite sized foods, depending on the severity of their condition. Unfortunately, this limits people to foods that may look unappealing, and there is no doubt that eating pureed food all the time can be very boring and repetitive. But the 3D printing industry has a solution – 3D printing food that both looks and tastes appealing.



Food created by 3D printers is having a bit of a moment, with restaurants that are incorporating 3D printers into their kitchens, and even some shops and pop-ups serving solely 3D-printed food. However, doctors and speech pathologists envision an entirely different opportunity for 3D-printed food: helping those with dysphagia improve their diet by offering a wider variety of experiences that still suit their condition.



By using 3D printers, clinicians see an opportunity to add colors, flavors and an infinite number of ways to present the food at mealtimes, without compromising the need for soft textures. While there is a long way to go to making 3D printed food commercially viable and available for use in hospitals, which have stringent regulatory and safety requirements, this could be an exciting area to watch.


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Laurie Breen

Laurie Breen is a freelance writer well-versed in research communications and grant writing. She received her Bachelors Degree in Psychology from Smith College and has worked previously at the University of Queensland's Centre for Clinical Research in Brisbane, Australia. Her favorite conversational topic is "antibiotic-resistant bacteria," making her a big hit at parties.