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Zoo's polar bear recovering from root canal

PITTSBURGH — Drilling and filling and root canal, oh my!

Koda, one of two young polar bears at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG
Aquarium, was jabbed with an anesthetic dart and carted off for
dental work on an infected chipped tooth.

The root canal procedure was performed Sunday by Dr. Tom Klein,
a veterinary dentist at Ohio State University, and Dr. David
Regine, who normally works on human teeth in the Pittsburgh suburb
of Bridgeville.

``The bear was very comfortable and so were we,'' Klein said
Monday.

Koda, 2, and his brother, Nuka, arrived from the Denver Zoo in
November and are the centerpiece of the zoo's new polar bear
exhibit, which helped the zoo set an attendance record last year.

The bears weigh about 600 pounds each, but will grow to 1,600
pounds in a few years.

Koda's keepers noticed the dental problem last month in his
lower right quadrant mandibular canine — the big, fang-like tooth
on the right side of his lower jaw. Koda's keepers believe he may
have broken the tooth playing with his brother.

The infection in the tooth could have spread to the jaw if left
untreated, Klein said.

The dentists prevented that by drilling into the tooth and
removing the infected 5-inch root during the one-hour, 45-minute
procedure. A permanent filling was then put into the 3-inch tooth.

The size of the tooth required the dentists to improvise,
because dental tools used on humans weren't large enough.

``Some of the things I used were plumbing supplies,'' Regine
said. ``I used a turkey skewer. You have to use your imagination.''

Regine, who regularly volunteers at the zoo, will return later
this week to check on Koda.
Regine also has worked on beavers, an
alligator, tiger and lion, but zoo officials said this was their
first polar bear root canal.

``I guess Koda's just going to grin and bear it,'' Regine said.