The “Soft Diet” Blues

Last week I had two wisdom teeth pulled. Silly me, chose to stay awake for the procedure and now I think of torture scenes in movies when I remember seeing all the utensils the dentist used to pull and prod my teeth out of my jaw (shudder)…Don’t worry I’m not going to go into the details of staying awake during dental surgery, I’m here to talk about food…

Having your teeth pulled is a painful experience and it makes it really tough to chew foods. Luckily for me I only had the one side done (meaning I have to go back for round two in the future) so at least I could chew a bit. Despite this, I was advised to stay on a liquid/soft diet for at leat a few days after my surgery to limit chewing and prevent any food from getting stuck in the holes where my wisdom teeth once lived.

When you think of a liquid/soft diet you might get excited because who doesn’t love to eat ice cream, popsicles, apple sauce, smoothies and puddings all day long! And I was too for about the first day. I went out right after the dentist and got all the essentials: yogurt, frozen berries, pudding snack packs, a big tub of frozen yogurt and apple sauce. To add to this I wanted to make sure I got enough protein (important for wound healing) and some fibre (prevent constipation from T3s) so I added skim milk powder and wheat bran to my cart. I was all set and ready to induldge in tubs of ice cream and pudding.

And I must say, there was nothing I wanted more on the first day than foods I didn’t have to worry about opening my mounth too wide to eat (even talking hurt…) so I really enjoyed my pudding and ice cream. However, even by day 2 I was tired of the minimal mouth feel that pureed and liquid foods provided. I was especially bummed when my roommates invited me for a BBQ where I sat around watching everyone chew on steak while I ate my roasted mashed squash…I’m now on day 5 post wisdom teeth extraction and I’m starting to introduce a few foods that require more chewing like soft muffins and noodles in my chicken broth.

What my short experience on a pureed/soft diet provided me with was an appreciation for what persons with dyshpagia or any other chewing or swallowing impairments must go through when they have to live life on a restrictive diet. Working in the hospital on the Rehab unit (mostly patients recovering from strokes) I see a lot of patients on pureed diets with thickened liquids (imagine drinking water thickened to a honey consistency). Many of my patients are on this diet for the rest of their lives or at best for a month or two while their swallow improves enough to be upgraded to a different diet with more textures. Even some people living in residential care homes go the remainder of their lives being spoon fed pureed meat and mashed potatoes with thickened milk and water. It’s no wonder that many residents and patients choose to go against the advice of their doctors and health care providers and “eat at risk”.

I think it’s really important for any dietitian, speach language pathologist or health care worker to put themselves on modified textured diets to know what it feels like for their patients and clients when they ask them to live the rest of their lives eating this way. We take for granted the pleasure we get from biting into a crisp apple, chewing on crunchy mixed nuts or a medium rare steak. Think about the different textures on your plate next time you’re having dinner and how you would feel if you had to convert those to all one texture (think pureed steak with mashed potatoes and mashed peas…)

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