(NaturalNews) "When I talk now people ask me where I got my accent from. Well, I got it from a dentist in Toledo." jokes Karen Butler.
Butler believes she has foreign accent syndrome, a condition so rare that there are only 60 known cases worldwide. Butler, a 56-year-old tax consultant who grew up in Toledo, Ore., woke up with the strange accent, which could be taken for anything from Eastern European to Swedish or British, after dental surgery in November 2009.
Butler had the surgery to remove her top teeth and front bottom teeth due to gingivitis. After the swelling went down the following week, she had still not regained her original accent. Her dentist told her that it was a matter of getting used to the new teeth.
But a year and a half later the accent remains.
"I had just had surgery, so at first we assumed it was because of all of the swelling, but within a week the swelling went down and the accent stayed," said Butler.
The accidental accent is usually fleeting and goes away within weeks or months, said Dr. Ted Lowenkopf, a neurologist and medical director of Providence Stroke Center in Portland, Ore. But the longer it lasts, the more likely it is to stick for good.
The syndrome is often the result of brain injury, but Butler believes she hasn't had a stroke or any brain trauma. She said she has not been able to get a brain scan because her medical insurance will not cover it.
"We don't know exactly how or why it happens, but it simply affects rhythm of language," said Dr. Helmi Lutsep, professor and vice-chair of the Department of Neurology at Oregon Health & Science University. He says that in some cases the speech just sounds a bit "off" while other cases are far more extreme. "I'm absolutely convinced this is a real phenomenon. These people are not making it up."
"Although we think it sounds like a British accent, if you had a language expert listening to her, they would say that's not an English accent," said Lowenkopf. "It's sort of an amalgam of different-sounding speech that sounds like a foreign accent. But it's not truly typical of any one foreign accent."
Butler said she can't hear her own accent when she speaks, but can feel herself forming words differently. She talks about her daughter, Jamie, as a "twenty-VUN" year old.
Although speech therapy could help Butler regain her old accent, she said she is used the new one.
"I appear to be completely normal otherwise and I'm quite OK with [the accent]," she said. "With a sense of humor, you can face anything."
She feels the accent is a benefit to her in a way.
"I used to be painfully shy," she said. "And now there's always something to talk about"
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