In the wild, a polar bear with a broken or infected tooth would probably die. But Arktos, a 4-year-old male polar bear at Highland Wildlife Park in Scotland, was lucky.
One day, the zookeepers noticed that the normally playful bear was out-of-sorts and that his mouth seemed to be bothering him. A closer inspection revealed that his upper left canine tooth was discoloured. No wonder the cumbersome carnivore was feeling down: discoloration can be a sign that a tooth is infected or even dead.
Performing emergency dentistry on a one-thousand-pound polar bear can be quite challenging. First, Arktos was knocked out with a tranquilizer dart. Then, a team of 12 people — including two dentists, two radiographers, two veterinarians, one veterinary nurse and three senior animal staff — lifted the bear onto a “dentist’s chair” consisting of a special table reinforced with planks and equipped with scaffolding. The crack emergency dental team examined the discoloured tooth and found that it was damaged at the tip and rotten inside. They decided to perform a root canal, cleaning out the infected pulp and filling it with cement. Once he came out of sedation, Arktos was groggy but able to eat soft foods.
Fun fact: polar bears have the longest and sharpest teeth of all bears.
Source: Alistair Munro. “Root canal surgery to restore polar bear’s bite.” Scotsman.com. November 16, 2012.