You really can swallow your dentures and it is a lot more common than you would think. About 1500 people a year die in the United States from ingesting foreign bodies. It is unclear how many people who swallow dental appliances survive the ordeal and/or of those, what the incidences of people under anesthesia are. An estimated 3.6-27.7 percent of all items swallowed and/or aspirated are dentures.
In an article, “Where Are My Teeth”, a guy underwent anesthesia for an unrelated condition and when he woke up, he noticed that his permanent front plate was missing and asked the hospital staff “Where are my teeth?!” The man had had the dentures for 17 years and believed them to be permanent. After searching the obvious places that his teeth would have been had they fallen out, doctors began doing diagnostic tests and discovered that he had swallowed his dentures while under the anesthesia for the unrelated procedure. This patient was the exception because most people who swallow or aspirate their dentures are either not aware of it or cannot communicate it.
This is because the most likely people to swallow their dentures are:
- · Epileptic Patients
- · Patients with Learning Disabilities
- · Patients with Alzheimer’s or other forms of Dementia
- · Stroke Victims
- · People with Autism
- · People with Cerebral Palsy
- · People with Parkinson’s
- · Edentulous People (People without teeth)
- · Alcoholics
- · People who are mentally ill
Children, who account for the largest group who swallow all sorts of things from batteries to you-name-it-they-have-swallowed-it, are the least likely to swallow dental appliances, likely because they are the least likely to wear dental appliances (except retainers). The most likely Dental Appliances to be swallowed or inhaled include:
- · Broken Dentures
- · Bridgework
- · Crowns
In rare cases, people do swallow the entire denture. In those cases, the Bottom Arch is more likely to be swallowed than the Top.
The major problem when someone swallows their dentures is that the material that dental appliances are made of are radiolucent. In other words, they don’t show up on X-rays. There is talk about making dentures out of radiopaque materials or adding compounds like barium to the plastics, porcelain and acrylics so that they do show up on X-rays when people swallow them. Paradoxically, the materials that would make the dentures more radiopaque would also weaken the dentures, making it more likely that they would break and be swallowed. CT Scans can sometimes locate and identify a swallowed denture but currently an MRI is the best way. In some cases a metal detector can also be used to locate the swallowed denture.
Most of the time, swallowed dentures will work themselves through the digestive tract without incident but in about 20 percent of the cases, an endoscopy is required to remove it because the denture gets stuck in the stomach or esophagus, usually at the 4th cervical vertebrae. This is most common with sharp objects and dentures that are larger than 2 cm thick and 5 cm long. Sometimes the only way to tell that a dental appliance has been swallowed or aspirated is by recognizing the secondary symptoms, which include:
- · Abdominal Pain
- · Choking
- · Coughing
- · Vomiting (With or without blood)
- · Fever
- · Nausea
- · Blockage
- · Inability to breathe
It usually takes between 2 and 12 days for a swallowed denture to work its way through the intestinal tract but in some cases it can take up to a month. Another potentially hazardous secondary condition caused by swallowing dentures is perforation of the stomach, intestinal tract and colon. This happens when the denture has sharp edges on it.
If you see someone who is choking because he or she has inhaled his or her dentures, it is recommended that you try to dislodge it with the Heimlich Maneuver or by administering blows to the back. Patients should be advised to not wear their dentures while they are sleeping.
If left untreated, swallowed dentures can perforate internal organs.
For more information on this topic and other interesting FAQs about dentistry, check out Dr. Thomas Layton’s FaceBook page.
Where Are My Teeth
So You’ve Swallowed Your Dentures
Hazards of Orthodontics Appliances and the Oropharnyx
Swallowed Partial Dentures
Is it Possible to Swallow Your Dentures?
Accidental Swallowing of Partial Denture, A Case Report
A Swallowed Denture