Pediatric Behavioral Health

About Dr. Mastis

Dr. MastisKimberly Mastis, MD trained in Adult Psychiatry and in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts.

Areas of Practice
  • Medication Consultation, Evaluation, & Management
  • Psychiatric Evaluation
  • Medication Treatment
  • Substance Abuse Treatment
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
  • Autism / Pervasive Developmental Disorder
Dr. Mastis's Helpful Tip
How To Swallow Pills

Many children and a few adults believe that they are unable to swallow pills and thereby doom themselves to bad tasting liquid medication. While no doubt there are a few people out there who really cannot swallow pills, most people can do so if they learn how. After all, most pills are much smaller than the pieces of food we swallow easily!

To learn to swallow pills, start with something that doesn't taste bad, isn't big or scary, and it's okay to take a lot of. I recommend Tic Tacs or mini M&M's.

  • First, eat one normally and notice whether or not you chew it. If you don't chew it, half the battle is over.
  • Next, eat one while trying not to chew it: just let it get nice and wet in your mouth, then give it a swallow.
  • You may have to practice a bit until you feel pretty sure you can swallow it if you've sucked on it a little.

The next step will teach you how to swallow it without sucking on it. The point is to remember that your taste buds only go halfway up your tongue. The back part of your tongue doesn't have any taste buds so NO BAD TASTE.

  • Open your mouth really wide. Put the candy on the back of your tongue as far as you can without gagging. Some people tilt their heads up and drop the pill on the back of their tongue (not down your throat: that will make you gag or choke. Just the back of your tongue)
  • Stop for a moment and notice whether you taste the candy. Mints are really good for this part.
  • Now, holding the candy on the back of your tongue, take a big gulp of water and swallow it all at once. It might take some practice to keep yourself from washing the candy back into the front of your mouth, or you might just get it right away.

Now you can swallow small candies. Try it with a full size M&M. DON'T try it with a starlight mint, that is TOO BIG.

Pills come in different forms. Tablets are the medicine mixed with a powdery filler and pressed into a hard pill. Tablets are a little bit crumbly and are most likely to melt in your mouth and leave a bad taste. Coated tablets are tablets with a coating around them to keep them from dissolving in your mouth. M&M's are just coated chocolate tablets. Capsules are little smooth containers (made usually of gelatin) that the pill manufacturer presses the medicine powder into. Capsules also keep the pill from dissolving on your tongue and leaving a bad taste. If you can swallow an M&M, you can swallow a coated tablet or a capsule, and it's okay to ask your doctor if you can have the medicine in coated tablets or capsules.

Unfortunately, not every medicine comes in a coated tablet or capsule. However, many people can swallow tablets, especially small ones, just exactly the same way that they swallow coated tablets or capsules, because there are no taste buds on the back of your tongue. If you practice with a strong flavored candy, like a mint tic tac or a Red Hot, you will soon figure out how to keep from tasting the candy while you swallow it. The trick is to be fairly quick, put the pill on the way back of your tongue, and use a lot of water.

Sometimes it will feel like the candy or pill gets stuck in your throat after you have swallowed it. Don't worry: it's not actually stuck there, and the feeling will go away in a few minutes. It means that you didn't use enough water to wash it all the way down to your stomach, so the muscles in your esophagus (the tube going to your stomach) have to work extra hard to get it there. Try drinking more water now and the next time you try, take a bigger mouthful of water to wash down the pill.

A few people still struggle, especially if they have to take big tablets. A few things may help:

  1. Use a LOT of water. Take one gulp to wash down the pill and then a few more swallows to chase it down to your stomach.
  2. Try wrapping the pill in butter or chocolate frosting to make it slide better and to hide the flavor a little. Don't use peanut butter, though, or you will have pill stuck to the roof of your mouth.
  3. Ask your doctor if you can have coated tablets, capsules, or at least smaller tablets.
  4. Some medicines can be mixed with water, juice, yogurt, apple sauce, or ice cream. Ask your doctor if yours can.
  5. Some people say that holding your nose while you eat, smelling an onion while you eat, or freezing your tongue with an ice cube first will also help you keep from tasting bad flavors.