Human Dentistry on a Tiger and Polar Bear

Tiger teeth and dentistry

The Aalborg Zoo had a precarious task at hand, when Malik, a 13 year old polar bear and Batu, an 11 year old Sumatran tiger …

Dental work on large predators is a specialist task because the teeth are very large and thus have long roots. Aalborg Zoo was fortunate that Hanne Kortegaard, a veterinarian specialising in dentistry at the Copenhagen University, was there to help both animals. Unfortunately, large predators can sometimes break their canine teeth, which then require root canal treatment or, in the worst cases, extraction. Earlier in the year Hanne performed a similar procedure on the same tiger. At that time it was found that two canine teeth needed specialist treatment over the course of two anaesthetics. This second anaesthetic was also used to check-up on Batu’s previous operation. Hanne was assisted by a non-veterinarian dentist, Linda Kihl, so that the procedures could be performed quickly in order to keep the anaesthesia time as short as possible.

“We do not know why the tiger has been so unfortunate to have 2 canine fractures, but luckily, and thanks to this team of volunteering specialists, we had the opportunity to help both the polar bear and the tiger” says Aalborg Zoo’s veterinarian Trine Hammer Jensen, who was pleased with how well the operations went.

Operating on these large predators needs careful planning and specialised equipment which was kindly provided by Craig Evans from iM3, a company who specialise in equipment for the veterinary dental market.

Both animals underwent time-consuming root canal treatments and therefore the anaesthesia was particularly difficult. Copenhagen Zoo’s head veterinarian, Carsten Grøndahl, and resident veterinarian, Kathryn Perrin, provided specialist supervision to make sure things ran smoothly.

Benefits other large predators

It is not often that polar bears are anesthetized, and therefore Aalborg Zoo utilized the situation to provide blood samples for some unique research. So with the help of the team at Aalborg University Hospital, under the direction of Benedict Kjærgaard, a large blood sample was taken. This sample will be used for research based at the Aarhus University, examining how lymphocytes from wild and captive polar bears react to environmental pollutants.