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How Do You Help An Elephant With a Toothache?

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When Swarna started losing weight, and the fibers in her poop didn’t look as small and broken up as they normally would, experts at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington D.C. guessed that the 46-year-old elephant was having trouble chewing her food properly.

Their assessment: A toothache-causing tooth needed to come out.

But pachyderm dentistry is a bit more complex than just visiting the dentist; it’s a team effort that requires months of patient training. Elephant caregivers had to build Swarna’s trust around operation prep and procedures, including wearing restraints so that she would be in the best position for the operation.

teamwork during the operation
The practice helped keep the process stress-free, and Swarna got her favorite treats throughout training.

“Elephant dentistry specialists from the Colyer Institute joined the Zoo’s team to remove the culprit tooth. Since her surgery, Swarna has put on weight — a clear sign the elephantine-sized efforts were a success…”

the offending tooth

“Aging elephants in zoos are challenged with geriatric issues. Sharing information about diseases and treatment options with other zoos is beneficial for the population in human care as a whole. Our commitment to the care and study of Asian elephants at the Zoo is part of a larger conservation program to protect Asian elephants in their native habitat.”

Swarna the elephant
See Swarna and her Asian elephant herd at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s Elephant Trails exhibit. Follow the zoo on Instagram, too.

Then explore more about teeth and elephants, including:
Where Do Teeth Come From?
• What causes cavities?
• Brush Brush Brush by Of Montreal
• The incredible, bendable, twistable, expandable elephant trunk
Elephant Intelligence – Wild Inside the National Zoo
• How to make paper out of elephant poo at Thailand’s Elephant Poo Poo Paper Park

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