Edwina, the Woodland Park Zoo's 15-year-old Malayan sun bear, broke a canine tooth, and it took about a dozen local dental specialists to fix it.
If Edwina, a 15-year-old Malayan sun bear, had sheared off her front left canine tooth in the wild, she would have been in trouble.
Sun bears use their 3-inch canines to defend themselves from attackers and to tear apart trees to find termites and other insects to eat. She also could have faced a severe infection.
Luckily for Edwina, a routine exam at Woodland Park Zoo revealed what she had done to her tooth — and about a dozen local health professionals volunteered to fix her up.
On Saturday, University of Washington dentists and other local specialists helped the zoo’s veterinary hospital operate on the anesthetized bear.
Most Read Local Stories
The tooth’s 2-inch root canal was much longer than that of the humans that the specialists work with, so they had to get creative with the instruments while filing down the stump and cleaning out the infection, said Edmund Kwan, a Tukwila endodontist who works part time at UW.
“That’s really kind of where the fun was,” he said.
Staff from the university’s School of Dentistry have been performing about two root canals each year for animals at the zoo since 1969. But few of the dentists had worked on an animal as large as the 102-pound Edwina, the second sun bear at the zoo to need a root canal.
Restorative dentist Daniel Chan sealed Edwina’s tooth on Saturday after Kwan finished cleaning up her abscess. He had to use almost five times the amount of dental amalgam that he normally uses for a filling, he said.
In general, Chan said, he found it a pleasant experience.
“The bear was much easier to work with than normal adults. … You don’t have communication problems with the bear,” Chan said.
Others involved said they were grateful for the chance to get so close to an animal like Edwina.
Martha Somerman, dean of the dental school, said she helped clean the bear’s teeth after the procedure.
“Being able to see the bear upfront, the colors — the beautiful orange area on their chest, oh my God, it’s just gorgeous,” she said.
While dental specialists worked at Edwina’s mouth, a radiologist performed an abdominal ultrasound to determine whether she was pregnant — she wasn’t — and other assistants filed down the bear’s claws. They wanted to take advantage of the anesthesia by doing as much as possible.
Edwina was imported from Malaysia in 1996 as part of the zoo’s species-survival plan. She’s now back in her enclosure with the zoo’s two other sun bears — and a healthy jaw.
Jean Guerrero: 206-464-2311 or firstname.lastname@example.org