VIDEO: Brave dentist gets to the root of tiger’s tooth problems at Paignton Zoo

A TIGER at Paignton Zoo in Devon has had a root canal – performed by one very brave veterinary dentist!

The patient was the zoo’s 11-year-old male Sumatran tiger Fabi, who is more than two metres long and weighs over 100 kilograms.

A Sumatran tiger has 30 teeth, including four very long canines. Canine teeth are important for biting, tearing and eating meat, for jaw architecture and display. As the adult breeding male tiger, animal staff wanted to make sure he’s in the very best of health for the future.

The veterinary dentist tasked with the job was Matthew Oxford. He is one of only a handful of veterinary dentists in the UK is one of the most experienced clinicians treating zoo animals.

Tigers can easily damage the tip of a tooth fighting, playing or chewing on hard objects such as bones. Root canal treatment is required when teeth are fractured, exposing the pulp, the soft sensitive tissue in the middle of the tooth. The procedure removes the bacteria and pulp from the chamber in the centre of the tooth and then fills the teeth with inert material.

Vets and keepers created a makeshift operating theatre in the largest tiger den the day before the procedure. As part of the Zoo’s rigorous safety protocols, a keeper with a shot-gun was also in attendance.

The procedure lasted two-and-a-half hours and 15 minutes later Fabi was sitting up unaware of his dental treatment.

Vet Jo Reynard: “Life in the Paignton Zoo veterinary department is always interesting, but a bilateral tiger root canal treatment is a challenging procedure. The fact it went so incredibly smoothly reflects the great team spirit among vets, keepers, curatorial staff and outside experts.”

Paignton Zoo Environmental Park curator of mammals Nic Dunn said: “Fabi is getting on now and it is not uncommon to see signs of wear and tear in an older cat. For tigers, the teeth and claws are very important pieces of equipment and so we need to make sure they are well looked after.

“Whilst Matthew was performing the dental work it also gave us the chance to give Fabi a full health check and we were pleased to see that he was in great health. We even wrapped his paws in bubble wrap and cut off sleeves from a zoo keeper’s old jumper to make sure he didn’t lose heat through his extremities during the long procedure!”

This article first appeared in the Independent. To get the latest articles when they appear, buy the print edition every Sunday or subscribe to our online edition HERE.