Foreign Accent Syndrome Strikes Close to Home

When someone decides to undergo a serious procedure such as jaw surgery, also known as orthognathic surgery, the last thing they want is any surprises when they wake up after surgery. But for one Texas woman, the surprise was one no one could have seen coming.

Lisa Alamia, mother of 3, has lived in Texas her entire life but when she awoke from surgery at Methodist Sugar Land Hospital to correct her overbite and uttered her first few words they were dripping with foreign accent. According to CNN, she is of Mexican heritage but now some say she sounds English, while others detect a hint of Australian or a mix of the two.

Doctors have diagnosed her with FAS, Foreign Accent Syndrome, so rare that only 100 cases have been documented over the last 100 years. Usually, they occurred after a brain injury or stroke but in some cases, there were no known causes. Alamia visited a neurologist after discovering her mysterious accent and after extensive testing, it was determined her case was one of those with no clear cause.

She’s actually not the first American to wake up from a dental procedure with an accent. Karen Butler, a tax consultant from Oregon, woke up from an implant procedure with an Irish accent and five years later it’s still going strong and she loves it.

Doctor’s aren’t sure how long Amalia’s accent will last. In some cases of FAS, the accents went away on their own over time. Some as quickly as a half an hour later. There’s just not enough research with such a rare condition to get an accurate timeline so Amalia says she started receiving speech therapy to get her original accent back.

Surgery to reposition the jaw can be life changing for many people. It certainly was in Amalia’s case.

When the teeth and jaw don’t align properly it can cause difficulty chewing, biting, swallowing, speaking and even breathing. It can cause chronic jaw and ear pain in conjunction with TMJ disorders and many people with more severe problems are self-conscious of their appearance. This can even lead to anxiety and depression.

Dr. Kevin Pollock, DDS, MS, who started Rockwall Oral and Facial Surgery says that jaw misalignment can be caused by the upper and lower jaws growing at different rates during development, or from injury or birth defects.

“The idea of jaw surgery may sound scary but for people living in physical pain due to bite problems or emotional pain due to cosmetic concerns it can be life changing. And using advanced technology through facial x-rays and computer imaging we can now show patients how it will change their face with digital imaging before even having anything done.”  

Pollock has three-dimensional models in his office to help show patients exactly how their surgery will take place visually which often helps them understand the process better.

He says,

“Five very strong muscles control the jaws and exert tremendous pressure when opening closing, grinding and clenching. When the jaws are misaligned this pressure on each tooth is not dispersed evenly and can cause serious damage and pain. It can even cause thinning of the enamel resulting in sensitivity and even tooth loss in areas that experiences especially strong pressure from the opposite jaw. One of the benefits of orthognathic surgery is better long term oral health as the excessive wear and tear teeth undergo due to an improper bite will be relieved when the jaws are aligned properly.”