Hippos
Say,  "Ahhh!"

From Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom with Marlin Perkins to Steve Irwin’s Crocodile Hunter and The Jeff Corwin Experience, Americans have long had a fascination with wildlife. Some of us grew up reading Ranger Rick and National Wildlife and have enjoyed seeing wildlife in nature and on preserves. How cool it must be, then, to serve as a wildlife dentist!

Nature itself provides “dental hygienists” for some animals in the wild:

  • Crocodiles are blessed with as many as 40 sets of teeth throughout their lives. Fortunately for them, the Egyptian plover has a symbiotic relationship with the Nile crocodile. While basking on land, crocs allow these intrepid birds into their mouths to pick off food remains and parasites.
  • Hippos have their own special hygienists: carp-like fish called barbels. In a mutualistic relationship, this fish scrapes its mouth along the hippo's skin and inside the hippo's mouth to remove and devour parasites, food bits, and even small animals from the hippo's mouth, keeping it clean and healthy.
  • Fish utilize cleaner shrimp to remove parasites from their bodies and mouths. The shrimp even eat mucus and parasites, which reduces infections and promotes quicker healing for the "client" fish.

But for other animals, a small number of dentists trained to treat wildlife, like Laura Braswell, DDS, come to the rescue.

Lions, tigers and bears, oh my! Exotic animal dentistry course coming to Anaheim

(The following excerpt is reprinted with permission from the California Dental Association)

Lion Yawning

From the wild lions roaming sub-Saharan Africa to the critically endangered Sumatran orangutans receiving care at the Sacramento Zoo, exotic animals around the world have been an intriguing topic for many years. While their habitats, diets and breeding practices are usually the conversation of choice, their unique dental needs are often left unexplored.

A new course coming to CDA Presents The Art of Science and Dentistry in Anaheim this May will give dental professionals and students a chance to learn about more than 35 years of exotic animal dentistry. Led by Laura Braswell, DDS, “Lions, Tigers and Bears—A Case Presentation” reviews complex cases that highlight the various dental problems in animals and the challenges of providing treatment. In addition to lions, tigers and bears, the lecture will also profile several monkeys, apes and marine mammals.

“I have been teaching similar courses for over 30 years and still learn something new every time I see an animal patient!” said Dr. Braswell, a periodontist with a private practice in Atlanta, Georgia, and a staff dentist for Zoo Atlanta and the Georgia Aquarium.

She said she designed the course to educate people on the similarities and differences between humans and nonhuman primates who also face oral complications such as oral decay, fractured teeth and periodontal disease.

“What surprises people the most about my class is learning how much these animals are like us,” she said. “The teeth of apes and monkeys are the most comparable to humans.”

One of only a handful of dentists in the country who treat zoo and circus animals on a regular basis, Braswell says that working on exotic animals is not a potential specialty field in dentistry.

Laura Braswell, DDS
Laura Braswell, DDS

“I started out in research at Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University, then moved to Zoo Atlanta to be a dentist for the apes,” she said. “Most work is now done by veterinary dentists with a few folks, like me, who work as consultants under the veterinarian.”

Excited to share her love for animals and dentistry at CDA Presents, Braswell said those who attend her lecture should expect to learn and have fun. “This is not a ‘how to’ course; it’s mostly entertaining and informational. Most people seem to enjoy it, even if they are not in dentistry!”

“Lions, Tigers and Bears—A Case Presentation” will take place Thursday, May 14, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.

Learn more about speaker Laura Braswell, DDS, or register to attend the Anaheim convention at cda.org/cdapresents.

Copyright © 2020 California Dental Association

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