Miami Zoo’s resident dentist gives animals check ups for dental week



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Dental health is as important for animals as it is for humans.

This week, the furry and fanged residents of Miami-Dade Zoological Park and Gardens, also known as Zoo Miami, went to the dentist. 

A variety of procedures were performed during Dental Week, from cleanings to root canals, and patients included a lion, gorilla, chimpanzee, tapir, aardvark and otters. 

The most common issue was removing accumulated tarter, as well as cracked or broken teeth that had to be repaired or extracted.

All the animals were fully sedated, both for their comfort and the dentist’s safety.

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a person sitting on the floor: Barney, a 27-year-old-gorilla, getting a tooth extracted during 'Dental Week' at Zoo Miami


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Barney, a 27-year-old-gorilla, getting a tooth extracted during ‘Dental Week’ at Zoo Miami

‘We have never had an animal wake up during a procedure,’ said zoo ambassador Ron Magill. ‘They are carefully monitored by an anesthesia team and if they show any sign of awakening, they are administered additional anesthesia to keep them fully sedated.’

Because animals generally don’t complain about dental pain, veterinarians often refer to it as ‘silent suffering.’

By the time anything is discovered, the disease or infection may be so far along that it’s debilitating – or even fatal.

General dental exams are performed on animals during regular health examinations.



a group of stuffed animals sitting next to a woman: Kashifa, a 10-year-old lioness, was well sedated before her tooth was extracted. 'We have never had an animal wake up during a procedure,' said zoo ambassador Ron Magill


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Kashifa, a 10-year-old lioness, was well sedated before her tooth was extracted. ‘We have never had an animal wake up during a procedure,’ said zoo ambassador Ron Magill



a dog wearing a hat: Sedation lasts about three to eight hours, with the dosage depending on the size and age of the animal


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Sedation lasts about three to eight hours, with the dosage depending on the size and age of the animal

If an issue is diagnosed, the zoo’s veterinarians will either resolve it themselves or, depending on its severity, enlist a veterinary dental specialist.

‘Dental health is a key component of the Animal Health Department’s preventative medicine program at Zoo Miami,’ said Magill, who snapped photos of the unusual proceedings. ‘A variety of issues ranging from gum disease to broken teeth can lead to critical care issues that may result in serious infection and even death without treatment.’



a person petting a dog: Veterinary dentist Jamie Berning and her veterinary technician, Jill Bates, traveled to Miami from Columbus, Ohio, to perform procedures on a variety of animals


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Veterinary dentist Jamie Berning and her veterinary technician, Jill Bates, traveled to Miami from Columbus, Ohio, to perform procedures on a variety of animals



a person wearing a costume: The most common issue was removing accumulated tarter, as well as cracked or broken teeth that had to be repaired or extracted


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The most common issue was removing accumulated tarter, as well as cracked or broken teeth that had to be repaired or extracted

This week, veterinary dentist Jamie Berning and her veterinary technician, Jill Bates, traveled to Miami from Columbus, Ohio, to perform procedures on a variety of animals.

Barney, the zoo’s 27-year-old gorilla, Hondo, a 26-year-old chimpanzee, and Kashifa, a 10-year-old lioness all had to have teeth extracted.

The procedures, which took between two and seven hours, were spread out over three days.

Sedation lasts about three to eight hours, with the dosage depending on the size and age of the animal.

Dr. Berning was able to treat two to three animals a day.



a person holding an object in his mouth: Hondo, a 26-year-old chimpanzee, also had to have a tooth extracted


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Hondo, a 26-year-old chimpanzee, also had to have a tooth extracted



Dr Berning holds up the tooth she removed from Hondo


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Dr Berning holds up the tooth she removed from Hondo

According to Magill, all of the patients have been returned to their habitats, ‘certainly much more comfortable following the extraordinary care they received.’

First opened in 1948, the Miami-Dade Zoological Park and Gardens is the largest zoo in Florida.

The only sub-tropical zoo in the continental United States, it’s home to more than 3,000 animals on nearly 750 acres.

Earlier this month, an elephant at Zoo Miami got some much-needed medical attention.  



a man sitting at a desk with a cat: An otter gets a dental exam during Zoo Miami's Dental Week. Other patients included a tapir and an aardvark


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An otter gets a dental exam during Zoo Miami’s Dental Week. Other patients included a tapir and an aardvark

Doctors at the zoo examined Ongard, a 10-year-old Asian elephant, who hurt his tusk while exploring his habitat.

Elephant tusks are actually elongated incisor teeth. 

Ongard ‘volunteered’ to have his tusk checked out, according to WSVN News 7, and was ‘very cooperative’ during the procedure.

He arrived at the zoo in 2018 from a zoo in Melbourne, Australia. 

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