Ten out of 10 dentists recommend not inhaling a drill bit during a routine dental procedure.
And so does at least one Illinois man who has recovered after an ill-timed cough during a routine tooth filling deposited a nearly inch-long drill bit deep in the lower right lobe of his lung.
“I was at the dentist getting a tooth filled, and then next thing I know I was told I swallowed this tool,” Tom Jozsi, a 60-year-old maintenance worker, told Wisconsin TV station WISN. “I didn’t really even feel it going down. All I felt was a cough. When they did the CT scan they realized, you didn’t swallow it. You inhaled it.”
The bit embedded itself so deeply in Jozsi’s lung that conventional tools couldn’t reach it, forcing interventional pulmonologist Dr. Abdul Alraiyes to take a more creative approach.
Wielding a tiny robotic bronchoscope typically reserved for sampling suspicious tissue deep in the lung, Alraiyes was able to ever-so-carefully extract the bit. The operation, carried out at the Aurora Medical Center in Kenosha, Wisconsin, was a success.
Video of the procedure uploaded to Alraiyes’ YouTube channel resembles a high-stakes version of the claw machine so often attempted and failed by children at vending machines everywhere.
“I was never so happy as when I opened my eyes, and I saw him with a smile under that mask shaking a little plastic container with the tool in it,” said Jozsi.
Frightening though the story may be, there’s no reason it should dissuade you from visiting the dentist.
Dr. Edmond Hewlett, a consumer adviser for the American Dental Association and longtime professor at the UCLA School of Dentistry, told HuffPost that dentists are trained to anticipate items coming loose in the mouth.
Those items typically include a piece of decayed tooth or even an ill-fitting crown. They’re readily captured by what are called rubber dams ― thin sheets of rubber that act as a barrier to the rest of the mouth (and the throat) — and are then extracted via either suction or a small pair of forceps.
“It happens not infrequently,” Hewlett said. “And we’re ready for it.”
As for a drill bit coming loose and then being inhaled, Hewlett acknowledged that any medical procedure carries some inherent risk. In this instance, he said, it seems to have been exacerbated by “an unfortunate simultaneous cough.”
(If you need to cough or clear your throat during dental work, it wouldn’t hurt to tell your dentist before doing so.)
Industry data about how often something like this occurs doesn’t really exist, Hewlett said. But he pointed to a 2004 study in the Journal of Dental Education that found that, over a 10-year period involving 100,000 patient visits at a large dental education institute, there were 36 reported instances of a small dental item being swallowed or aspirated.
Of those cases, 25 were swallowed, one was inhaled, and 10 were reported lost and never located in the patient.
“These are dental students who are learning dentistry,” Hewlett said of the study’s scope. “We don’t let them treat patients until they’ve developed important competencies, but still, these are trainees.”
Hewlett encouraged anyone who’s apprehensive about a procedure to speak with their dentist beforehand and ask questions about anything that isn’t clear.
“During these common procedures,” said Hewlett, “understand that the techniques and the devices and the technology we use are extremely effective in preventing the type of incident that happened with the patient in Wisconsin.”
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