Early Detection of Dental and Oral Pathology
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2002
John L. Scheels1, DDS; Roberta Wallace2, DVM

1Dental Consultant, Milwaukee County Zoo, Milwaukee, WI, USA; 2Chief Veterinarian, Milwaukee County Zoo, Milwaukee, WI, USA


Early detection of dental and oral pathology often leads to a less complicated and more successful resolution of the problem. Patterns of signs in many species which indicate that dental and oral problems are likely present have been observed. Thorough communication about these signs between the zoo keepers, veterinarians, and dental consultant has improved the early detection and elevated the level of care provided.

Here at the Milwaukee County Zoo, we hold periodic seminars with the keepers to illustrate what certain signs may indicate. We do this every two years to teach new personnel and encourage an exchange between all of us. Problems that were first detected by keepers are reviewed in these seminars.

The keepers have noticed many very subtle behaviors that have indicated that pain is present. Variations in eating habits are a very important observation, as is the physical posture of the head or jaw, eye problems, swellings or lesions on the face, nasal drainage, tooth fracture, unusual mouth and tongue motions, bloody saliva, and changes in stool appearance. These signs and others may indicate that a problem exists. The keepers take pride in detecting early signs of health problems. Together we have all learned more about early warning signs. Enhancing the keepers’ knowledge and thus, their observational skills, has significantly aided in our efforts to manage our collection animals’ dental and oral health.

Examples used to illustrate these signs include the following:

Nasal drainage in a cheetah associated with focal palatine erosion.
Treatment: close palatal lesion and reduce length of cusp causing lesion

Fractured mandibular canine in a rhinoceros.
Treatment: endodontics

Discolored tooth in a fruit bat.
Treatment: extraction

Chronic eye infection in a domestic cat associated with an abscessed maxillary canine.
Treatment: extraction.

External drainage tract on the muzzle of a domestic dog associated with an abscessed maxillary 4th premolar.
Treatment: extraction

Discolored hair on chin of a polar bear associated with an abscessed mandibular canine.
Treatment: surgical endodontics

Chronic drainage tract on face of a black colobus monkey associated with an infected maxillary canine.
Treatment: surgical extraction


Speaker Information
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John L. Scheels, DDS
Dental Consultant
Milwaukee County Zoo
Milwaukee, WI, USA

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