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Putting A Hand In The Lions Mouth: Zoo Lion Gets Root Canal

By CBS Pittsburgh Staff

PITTSBURGH (KDKA-TV) -- Here’s one case where you really hope the patient doesn’t wake up mid-operation.

Razi, one of the Pittsburgh Zoo’s 8-year-old African lions, needed a little dental work Tuesday.

A 440 pound beast, sleeping like a kitten while a dentist performed a root canal. The drill for a lion’s tooth sounds just like the drill in your dentist’s office, and the procedure itself is also much like what you’d have in the dentist’s chair.

“Now, obviously, it’s like a root canal in humans, but just on a much bigger scale,” Dr. Ginger Sturgeon, the zoo’s director of animal health, said.

Razi suffers from a type of seizure disorder.

“Unfortunately, likely what happened is during one of his seizures, he broke his canine tooth. That’s his really long pointy tooth that we all have,” Sturgeon said. “He fractured off a good bulk of his tooth above the gum line, actually exposing the pulp cavity.”

That tooth is really important for a lion, so doctors wanted to do everything they could to save it.

“The tooth is actually already dead, but what we hope to do is save the function of it so that Razi can eat normally,” Sturgeon said.

Razi didn’t show any symptoms that he was in pain, but fortunately, his keepers managed to spot his broken chomper.

“The keepers have all of our cats, including Razi, trained to open his mouth upon command. So they’re on the other side of the bars, and they ask him to open his mouth. If he does so, he gets a meatball or another type of reward. And so when they were doing their daily check, they noticed at that time that the canine had fractured off,” Sturgeon said.

Once the root canal was complete, Razi was good to go… except keepers will have to limit the amount of hard bones he gets to snack on.

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