PITTSBURGH ZOO LION GETS A ROOT CANAL
(Pittsburgh) (2018)-- “This message is for Razi the lion to remind you of your upcoming dental appointment for a root canal.”
If the lions at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium had voicemail, that would be the message left for our eight-year-old African lion, Razi. Just like humans, it is not unusual for animals to need dental work too.
Zoo keepers discovered Razi’s tooth problem during a daily health check. “As part of our care program, we have taught the lions to open their mouths so we can do a quick check and make sure everything is OK,” says Kathy Suthard, Lead Mammal Keeper. “When I asked Razi to open his mouth, I was surprised to notice the broken tooth because he had not shown any signs of being in discomfort or pain.”
During Razi’s scheduled veterinary exam, Head Veterinarian Dr. Ginger Sturgeon was able to confirm through an oral exam and radiographs that Razi had sustained a complicated crown fracture of his large upper canine tooth. “His dental exam revealed that approximately one inch of tooth was fractured off, exposing the pulp cavity,” says Dr. Sturgeon. “We aren’t entirely sure how the tooth was broken but it could be related to his previously diagnosed epilepsy. In Razi’s case, the tooth’s pulp cavity is now exposed and to save the tooth, we need to do a root canal.”
The Pittsburgh Zoo has a long-standing relationship with Dr. Dave Regine, a human dentist who has been a Zoo docent for the last 25 years. Veterinary staff will work alongside Dr. Regine and his staff to perform the root canal in an effort to save the tooth. Dental procedures performed on lions can be challenging due to the sheer size of the lion’s teeth. In fact, one lion tooth measures approximately four inches in length, while human canines typically measure approximately 3/4 of an inch.
To begin the procedure, the veterinary team will administer an injectable anesthetic. When Razi falls asleep, Zoo staff will transport him to the Animal Care Center for the root canal. Dr. Sturgeon and her team will re-radiograph Razi’s teeth to make sure that no abscess formation or lysis of the tooth root has occurred. Once given the “all clear,” Dr. Regine will begin his work.
One of the biggest challenges for Zoo staff moving forward will be to ensure the tooth does not continue to fracture. Zoo staff will make sure his enrichment items will not damage his dentition.
After the procedure, keepers will stay with Razi until he is fully awake and able to rejoin his brother Ajani in the lion building.
Pittsburgh Zoo &PPG Aquarium Members receive free admission for an entire year. For more information including directions, hours, pricing, and special events, visit pittsburghzoo.org.
The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium is American Humane Conservation certified, member of American Humane and the Zoological Association of America. For more information, visit zaa.org.