My son lost one of his baby teeth this past weekend and of course it happened while he was eating lunch. He said that his food got a “hard piece in it” and he spit it out in the trash. And guess what we found in the trash – his tooth! He asked me and mom what would happen if he would have swallowed it and we jokingly told him that he would have had to write a note to the tooth fairy explaining what had happened and that he would then get his money. (He gets a silver dollar, but I have heard of kids getting up to $40 from the tooth fairy! I guess she must do a C.O.L.A. based on the ZIP code!!)
Anyway, that brought up the conversation between my wife and I about what happens to baby teeth that are swallowed. And then she wanted to know if any adults in the practice have swallowed their teeth! So I am not a gastroenterologist, and I can’t really speak to what happens to all baby teeth that are swallowed, aside from my assumption that they probably pass all the way through the digestive system without much of an issue (since by the time they are ready to exfoliate there is not much of a root left to catch onto parts of the digestive tract). But, then again, that’s an assumption and most patients are not “scientifically inclined” enough to go digging through their kid’s stool looking for them.
But adults are a different story, and I have had some really “scientifically inclined” adult patients and there have been patients who reported swallowing pieces of teeth and dental work over the years. Actually, there was a story about a dentist, a past-owner of my DC practice, who had a patient swallow a crown before he could cement it. He had the patient do a handstand in the office while the dentist shook his legs to get the crown out. Well, it turns out they didn’t tell the story because it worked; it was just a pretty funny event!
Generally, if you do swallow a crown or a bridge or an entire tooth (which could happen during a traumatic event) you should have that checked out right away. The most immediate danger is that an object can be inhaled and obstruct breathing (remember the Heimlich Maneuver), but large objects can become lodged in the digestive system and cause some major issues. I’ve had lots of patients report inadvertently eating small pieces of fillings months before they came to the office without any issues, though. So, I am not a gastroenterologist, but I am pretty sure if you’re worried about it, your GI Doc would like you to be seen right away.
The take home message is don’t eat your dental work if you can help it. See you at your next appointment!