In a pioneering effort, a five-member team of surgeons performs a six-hour dental surgery to ease the pain on two tigers from Bannerghatta National Park a team of five surgeons needed close to six hours and plenty of courage to complete a root canal on a patient.
They exchanged hi-fives, sported wide grins and were thrilled. What’s the big deal, you may ask. Well, their patient was tigress Menaka and tiger Mohan, residents at the Bannerghatta Biological Park.
Dr A Sha Arun, a wildlife veterinary surgeon who conducted the surgery, revealed the operation was not an easy task.
“There was always the fear of failure and losing a tiger,” Arun said. “We also needed to be extremely cautious. One swipe of the animal’s paw and it would have been a classic case of operation success, surgeon died. There is a raging debate across the country on saving tigers. It is an incredibly proud feeling to know that you have actually saved a tiger and I speak for the team on that,” Arun said.
Arun revealed his team was trained to treat wild animals and to perform surgeries on them by a team of doctors from England.
“The technology isn’t available in the country,” Arun said. “The key is to give the animal the right amount of anaesthesia. A little too much and you could endanger the life of the animal. Too little and there is the danger of the animal reviving which would put our lives in danger.”
Captive tigers develop dental problems by constantly gnawing on the bars of their cages. Arun says they could lose as many as half their teeth. The problems arise when they develop cavities in their canine teeth or fangs, the ones used to tear meat.
These teeth are vital for their survival and when pieces of meat get stuck in the cavities, the tooth begins to decay. If neglected, infection spreads to the jaw and eventually harms the brain.
“Tigers go crazy with the pain,” Arun said. “They become very aggressive and start biting everything around them. If this behaviour continues for a period of time (two or three days), we then administer anaesthesia and perform a general check-up,” he said.
HOW IT IS PERFORMED
Prior to an operation, X-rays are taken and a case for either removal or treatment is made. General anaesthesia is administered through a pipe while the animal is in its cage. The animal is then shifted to an operation theatre located on the premises of Wildlife SOS, where Arun works.
“The procedure is similar to that done with humans,” Arun said. “But in humans, a 2.5 centimetre cavity is considered huge, while for a tiger it could be 11 to 12 centimetres. It takes an hour or two to perform the same operation on a human, but it takes six hours or more in the case of a tiger,” he said.
Arun and his team have operated on more than 600 sloth bears. He also visits Leopard Rescue Park in Maharashtra to operate on the big cats. The surgical instruments are portable and he carries them with him.
Want to see how a root canal is performed on a tiger? Then visit Nimhans Convention Centre, the venue for the Bangalore Institute of Dental Sciences’ (BIDS) first ever comprehensive workshop in the field of endodontics (root canal treatment) on September 14 and 15. Dr Ashish Shetty, organising secretary of the workshop explains that the focus is on two initiatives “Go Green’’, where dental doctors are educated regarding environmental issues and “Save Stripes’’, a campaign to save tigers.
Dr Swira Rao, Director, BIDS said that they would foot the bill for the operation conducted on tigers. “As a dental fraternity, we are committed to the cause of rehabilitation of tigers and we are showing solidarity through this act,” she said.
It takes an hour or two to perform the same operation on a human, while it takes six hours or more in the case of a tiger. – Dr Asha Arun