A Man’s False Teeth Got Stuck in His Throat During a Surgery, 8 Days Passed Before Anyone Noticed

August 13, 2019 Updated: August 13, 2019

Here’s why it’s best to remove false teeth before surgery: You just might swallow them.

A medical journal is reporting the case of a 72-year-old British man whose partial dentures apparently got stuck in his throat during surgery and weren’t discovered for eight days.

During the patient’s first return to the hospital emergency room, he was having a hard time swallowing and was coughing up blood.

At first, the doctors were unable to diagnose the problem and the unnamed man was sent home with a prescription for mouthwash, antibiotics and steroids.

But he returned two days later with worsening symptoms and was admitted to the hospital with suspected aspiration pneumonia—a severe chest infection.

The hospital took another X-ray that revealed the problem: His dentures—a metal roof plate and three false teeth—lodged at the top of this throat, which had caused internal blistering and swelling.

The man, who said he had lost his dentures during his initial visit to the hospital, was subsequently rushed into surgery to remove the false teeth. He remained in the hospital for another six days.

Dentures in throat 2
This undated X-ray image provided by the BMJ in August 2019 shows dentures stuck in the throat of a 72-year-old patient. They became lodged in his throat during surgery and weren’t discovered until eight days later. (BMJ via AP)

He returned suffering complications on multiple occasions over the following month, before eventually healing.

How it happened isn’t exactly clear, but a half-dozen previous cases have been documented of dentures going astray as surgical patients were put to sleep.

Placing a tube in a patient’s airway can push things where they don’t belong, said Dr. Mary Dale Peterson, an anesthesiologist at Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Besides dentures, retainers, loose teeth and tongue piercings can cause problems, said Peterson, who is president-elect of the American Society of Anesthesiologists. Before a child’s surgery, she’ll pull a very loose tooth and tell the patient to expect a visit from the tooth fairy. “We can make a nice game of it.”

In the British case, after the dentures were removed, the man had several bouts of bleeding that required more surgery before he recovered. The journal article didn’t identify the man or the hospital involved.

What can be learned from this case? Doctors need to listen carefully to their patients and build a timeline of what happened rather than relying heavily on scans and tests, said Dr. Rui Amaral Mendes, an associate editor of BMJ Case Reports, which published the paper Monday.

For their part, patients should tell their doctors about mouth problems before surgery, said Mendes, an oral surgeon at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. That includes dentures, blisters and serious gum disease. Loose teeth could be knocked down the throat when tubes are put into the airway.

“Stay on the safe side,” he said. “Inform your physician of what’s going on in your mouth.”

By Carla K. Johnson

The CNN Wire contributed to this report.

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