(NBC) – That's why it's best to remove false teeth before surgery: You might just swallow them.
A medical newspaper reports the case of a 72-year-old British man whose partial dentures apparently stuck to his throat during surgery and were not detected for eight days.
The man went to the emergency room because he had difficulty swallowing and coughing up blood. Doctors ordered a chest x-ray, diagnosed him with pneumonia and sent him home with antibiotics and steroids. It took another hospital visit before another X-ray revealed the problem: His dentures – a metal roof plate and three false teeth ̵
The man believed that his dentures were lost while he was in the hospital for minor operations.
How it happened is not exactly clear, but half a dozen previous cases have been documented by dentures that disappear when surgical patients are put to sleep.
Placing a tube in a patient's airway can push things where they do not belong, said Dr. Mary Dale Peterson, anesthesiologist at Driscoll Children's Hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas.
In addition to dentures, holders, loose teeth and tongue piercings can cause problems, says Peterson, president-elect of the American Society of Anesthesiologists. Before a child's surgery, she pulls a very loose tooth and tells the patient to expect a visit from the dental floss. "We can make a nice game."
In the British case, after the dentures were removed, the man had multiple bleeding events that required more surgery before he recovered. The journal article did not identify the man or the hospital.
What can be learned about this case? Doctors need to listen carefully to their patients and build a timeline for what happened rather than relying heavily on scans and tests, Dr. Rui Amaral Mendes, co-editor of BMJ Case Reports, who published the magazine on Monday.
For their part, patients should tell their doctors about oral problems before surgery, says Mendes, an oral surgeon at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. It includes dentures, blisters and severe gum disease. Loose teeth can be thrown in the throat as the tubes are let into the airway.
"Stay on the safe side," he said. "Inform your doctor about what's going on in your mouth."