An unexpected discovery

a foreign body in the tongue

Today’s news is culled from an edition of The Northern Journal of Medicine published in 1845. It brings a new meaning to the phrase ‘biting your tongue’:

A German soldier was wounded in the battle of Gross-Gorschen (2nd May 1813) by a musket ball, which penetrated the left cheek, carrying away the four last molars of the upper jaw, and, passing through the tongue, made its exit through the left cheek, carrying away several teeth of the left side of the under jaw.

The battle of Gross-Görschen is the German name for an encounter known to most English speakers as the Battle of Lützen. Napoleon led his army against a combined Russian and Prussian force; though he was the victor, heavy losses prevented him from gaining much advantage from this success. More than 20,000 died on the battlefield.

The wounds healed in six weeks, and, except the loss of the teeth, no other deformity remained but the cicatrix [scar] of the tongue, which did not impede his speaking or chewing. During the spring of the year, at which time the patient was subject to pulmonary and cerebral congestion, severe pains, with slight swelling of the tongue, came on, to which was added, in the year 1829, a small swelling of its right side, which suppurated and discharged thin matter, after which it gradually healed.

Bear in mind that these sequelae (medical consequences) appeared sixteen years after the original injury – a common occurrence at a time when battlefield surgery was more often concerned with patching up the casualty rather than effecting an outright cure. What is unusual about this case is that the soldier was not much troubled by them: he only experienced two such episodes in over three decades.

On the 2nd of May 1845, a similar swelling made its appearance in the same place, which opened without discharging any matter, and, after some days, what appeared to be a small piece of bone presented itself in the opening, which on being removed, proved to be the second molar tooth, which had penetrated the tongue from the musket shot thirty-two years previously, and had during the whole time caused no great inconvenience. The roots of the tooth were broken off by the neck, and the whole surface covered by calcareous [calcified, i.e. chalky] deposit.

 There are many examples of soldiers living quite happily for decades with pieces of shrapnel lodged in their tissues – but a tooth is a new one to me.

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