What Happens If You Swallow a Tooth: Understanding the Risks and What to Do Next
Losing a tooth is an event that every person has to go through several times during their lifetime. This is especially true for children in the process of replacing deciduous or baby teeth with their permanent counterparts.
Since they are inside the mouth, there is a risk of swallowing them by accident when they fall off. Although this is not common, it is still possible.
Fortunately, swallowing a tooth usually doesn't cause any severe health complications or issues to be concerned with. Nonetheless, being prepared and knowing what to do in this scenario is vital.
We'll explain in this article what happens if you swallow a tooth and the possible but rare complications.
Are teeth digestible?
Although the teeth are not meant to be swallowed, they tend to be digestible in most cases. This means that most times they can pass through the entire digestive tract without causing any issues or health complications.
This is because they are small enough to fit through the esophagus without any problem. Additionally, their edges are often not sharp enough to cause harm while it passes through.
In the case of children, the roots of baby teeth reabsorb and disintegrate during their exfoliation process. This causes them to be small once they fall off. As a result, they are less likely to harm the digestive tract when swallowed.
Also, teeth are made of natural minerals. Therefore, they don't cause stomach aches.
What to expect after swallowing a tooth?
Fortunately, there is not much to expect after swallowing a tooth. Depending on its size and shape, it could cause mild discomfort as it passes through the throat.
Afterward, the tooth reaches the stomach, where it continues its journey through the digestive tract. After 2 - 4 hours, the tooth moves from the stomach to the small intestine. Lastly, it reaches the large intestine, in which the digestion process is completed.
It can take about 24h - 48h for the tooth to be expelled from the body through feces.
It is highly recommended not to self-induce vomiting since it can cause discomfort, especially in children. Also, it is not recommended to take any laxatives. Instead, it is better to wait until the tooth is naturally expelled through the digestive process.
When to seek medical attention?
Swallowed teeth are most likely to pass through the digestive tract as traditional food does. However, there is a tiny chance that it might go through the wrong opening and end up in the airway.
When this happens, the tooth can get stuck in the tracheobronchial tree. This is a vital structure that allows the passage of air into the lungs. Therefore, it can cause difficulty breathing, turning into a medical emergency.
Additionally, some of the symptoms that suggest that medical attention is needed include:
- Abdominal pain
- Difficulty swallowing
- Neck pain
- Chest pain
- Recurring vomiting
- Blood in vomiting
Some of these symptoms can happen if the tooth gets stuck on its way to the stomach or if a sharp edge cuts or injures the digestive tract.
In these cases, the doctor can take an X-ray to determine the tooth's location or perform an endoscopy.
What are the odds of an adult swallowing a tooth?
Although the odds are higher for children, adults are also at risk of swallowing an entire tooth or a fragment of it.
A severely decayed permanent tooth can be highly prone to fracture while eating. Biting hard food can cause a piece of tooth to fracture. These pieces can be swallowed by accident. Also, severe periodontitis can cause a permanent tooth to become loose and fall off. This can also happen during an accident that involves heavy facial trauma.
Fortunately, although permanent teeth are bigger than baby teeth, they are not likely to cause harm if they can pass through the esophagus.
How to prevent swallowing a tooth?
There are a few ways to prevent swallowing a tooth by accident. In the case of children, some of the recommendations include the following:
- Ask the child to notify an adult when the tooth is loose enough to fall off. This way, the adult can help the child safely extract it. Nonetheless, letting the tooth exfoliate naturally is highly recommended.
- Ask the child to be careful while eating. Chewing food can cause the tooth to fall off. If it happens while the child is eating, there is a higher chance the tooth might be swallowed with the food.
However, recommendations for adults are different. Some of them include:
- Wear a mouthguard while playing sports. This can prevent a tooth from fracturing or dislodging entirely in the case of trauma. As a result, the chance of swallowing a tooth decreases.
- Have good oral hygiene. If the gums and teeth are healthy and durable, they are not likely to fall off. An outstanding way to ensure good oral hygiene is through the Oclean X Pro Digital Sonic Electric Toothbrush. This toothbrush is equipped with a timer that guarantees the user brushes for 2 mins. Also, since it is a sonic toothbrush, it can remove more plaque than a conventional toothbrush.
Swallowing a tooth is more likely to happen to a child than to an adult. Fortunately, this doesn't cause any health issues in most cases. Instead, the tooth simply passes through the digestive tract and is expelled through the feces.
However, in some cases, the tooth can get stuck in the airway or cause harm as it passes through the digestive tract. If this happens, it is vital to seek immediate medical attention.