The dental morphology of orcas has a number of features in comparison with the terrestrial mammal. The main difference is the monomorphism and the presence of only one set of teeth throughout the life1. This fact in conjunction with the characteristics of the enamel structure could lead to dental problems both in wild and captive orcas. According to the studies of the wild orcas corpses, which were found on the North Atlantic coast from 1783 to 1995, the coronal wear of various degrees was found in almost all animals. In the northeastern Pacific, the most serious tooth damage occurred in offshore orcas, feeding mainly on various types of sharks2. Such alterations were obviously connected with feeding habits.
Similar dental problems appeared frequently in captive orcas. Both for the treatment of pulpitis, infections and to prevent possible complications, orcas at the theme parks often undergo a modified pulpotomy procedure. However, the diet and feeding method of captive orcas are insufficient to dislodge food and other residues from an open tooth cavity. The accumulation of such debris in the pulpal cavity could lead to recurrence of pulpitis or abscess of the periosteum and secondary osteomyelitis3,4. We were faced with similar complications after pulpotomy procedure in orcas kept in “Moskvarium.”
A set of measures was developed to solve this problem. It included the expansion of the bactericidal activity spectrum of antiseptics and implementation of additional diagnostic methods like daily thermography procedure and cytological examination of discharge from open dental cavity.
The application of these methods in orcas allowed to detect the development of dental inflammation at early stages, before there were clinical signs and pronounced changes in blood, and to exclude the recurrence of pulpitis. Therefore, systemic therapy was avoided, allowing use of only local treatments. All of these factors have a beneficial impact on the animal’s quality of life.
* Presenting author
1. Ishiyama M. 1987. Enamel structure in odontocete whales. Scanning Microscopy. 1(3):1071–1079.
2. Ford JKB. 2011. Shark predation and tooth wear in a population of northeastern Pacific killer whales. Aquatic Biology. 11:213–224.
3. Kompanje EJO. 1995. Strandings of killer whales Orcinus orca in the Netherlands between 1783 and 1995 with some remarks on skeletal and dental pathology (Mammalia, Cetacea, Odontoceti). Deinsea. 2:67–82.
4. Jett J. 2017. Tooth damage in captive orcas (Orcinus orca). Archives of Oral Biology. 84:151–160.