When a 72-year-old man from the UK went to the emergency room after having trouble swallowing solid food, he got a diagnosis that he likely wasn't expecting to hear: His dentures were actually lodged in his voice box.
Yep, you read that right. The entire story is outlined in a new case study in the journal BMJ Case Reports, published Monday. But how exactly does a pair of dentures get caught in one's voice box? Good question.
As it turns out, before the denture incident, the man recently had surgery to remove a benign lump from his abdominal wall. Six days later, the man sought help from a doctor for difficulty swallowing, but was misdiagnosed with a respiratory tract infection. (Doctors concluded that pain the patient was feeling—which was actually caused by a foreign object stuck in his voice box—was being caused by a tube that had been run through his airway during surgery.)
The man returned to the emergency department two days later with worsening symptoms: He complained that the pain in his throat had not subsided, and was now accompanied by a hoarse voice and trouble swallowing. “He was also feeling short of breath, particularly when lying down, and had taken to sleeping upright on the sofa,” the report says.
Only then, eight days after surgery, did an ear, nose, and throat specialist discover that the patient’s dentures had gotten “lost during his general surgery” and ended up in his larynx, the report explains.
The patient was immediately taken to the operating room, and his dentures were removed from his voice box.
The case report says that this isn’t the first time that a patient has inhaled something while being operated on. Among these objects are a latex glove, teeth, and dentures. While the patient featured in the new case report healed well, these stories don’t always have a happy ending. Once, a patient inhaled dentures and ended up dying, the report says.
Surgery isn't the only event that can cause someone to inhale their dentures. Eating, intoxication, and trauma to the face can also cause this. Dementia and stroke are also conditions that predispose people to denture aspiration or inhalation.
The case report says there are not national guidelines in the UK about what should be done with dentures before an operation, and multiple US-based care providers only recommend informing your doctor that you wear dentures before an operation. The new case report highlights the fact that doctors should be cautious to note any prosthetics a patient who is going into surgery has.