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Esophagus Lesson for Kids: Definition & Function

Instructor: Rachel Torrens
You chew and swallow, but do you ever wonder where your food goes next? Into the amazing esophagus! In this lesson, learn more about this very important body part, including how it manages to get your food from your mouth to your stomach.

Where is Your Esophagus?

If I asked you to point to your eyelids, you definitely could. But if I asked you to point to your esophagus, you might have a little more difficulty. That's because your esophagus is one of those many important body parts that is completely hidden from view!

The esophagus is the tube-like structure that connects the mouth to the stomach. Once you chew your food and swallow, the food travels down your esophagus and into your stomach. This seems straightforward enough, but this simple movement of food from one place to the other is anything but simple! Let's explore exactly how the esophagus achieves this movement of masticated mass. You know chewed food!

The esophagus is hollow in the middle like a soda-straw, allowing food to go from the back of the mouth down into the stomach.
Esophagus diagram

How Does the Esophagus Work?

The esophagus is built from muscle. When a blob of food enters the muscly esophagus, a process known as peristalsis begins. Peristalsis is the involuntary contraction and relaxing of muscle. In this case, the esophagus is contracting, or squeezing, itself so the tube collapses. In so doing, the esophagus slowly pushes the food blob downward towards the stomach.

Now before going any further, let's discuss the involuntary part of peristalsis. Involuntary means there is no active control by you; the muscle just performs the squeezing motion on its own. For example, if you want to kick a ball, you think 'Kick that ball!' Your brain tells your leg muscles to kick. Well, after swallowing a bite have you ever thought, 'Move that food from my mouth to my stomach!'? No! And why not? Because the esophagus does it for you, without any direct message from you.

Okay, back to peristalsis! So imagine there is a tiny amount of toothpaste left in the toothpaste tube. However, it is at the bottom of the tube and you want it to come out. You take your finger and slide it, in a wave-like motion, squishing the toothpaste towards the opening. This is basically what the esophagus is doing with your food.

Sphincters

So why does the toothpaste not squirt all over the counter while you are squeezing it? Because of the cap! Well, the esophagus also has a cap, two in fact. One cap is at the top of the esophagus, and one cap is at the bottom of the esophagus. These caps are known as sphincters.

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