A Root Canal for Chai

Back in March, Asiatic black bear Chai received his yearly exam from Virginia Zoo Veterinarian Dr. Amanda Guthrie and vet staff- all was normal. Later in the month, a zookeeper noticed a broken tooth and blood in his mouth. Upon further inspection it was decided that Chai would need a root canal. The Zoo’s vet staff reached out to Dr. Colleen Fox of The COVE, Center of Veterinary Expertise, for some extra help on this special case. 

Dental health and treatment of dental disease has a significant effect on animals’ quality of life.  In the past, veterinary dental treatment was mostly limited to extracting diseased teeth. Unfortunately, extractions weaken the jaw bones and also have a negative effect on nutrition, both of which can become major problems, especially for older animals. Dr. Fox specifically enjoys that veterinary dentistry is a cutting edge specialty using both traditional procedures and advanced technology to treat dental disease.

Chai was kept under anesthesia during the procedure. The technique of the root canal is the same whether it is a dog, a human or a bear but Chai’s tooth was so big, the team needed longer endodontic files to reach the end of it. Dr. Fox performed a nerve block, similar to Novocaine, to help with any post-op pain and Chai was given a few days of pain medication.  Typically, the fractured tooth is more painful before the root canal than after because the nerves are numbed during the procedure.

“I worked with a veterinary dentist on a tiger previously,” said Dr. Fox. “It is awe-inspiring to see these beautiful, wild animals so close and to be helping him live a more comfortable life.”

Chai is back to his normal, playful self. You can see him and his brother, Thai, in the Asia- Trail of the Tiger exhibit now.