'Killer' toothaches likely cause misery for captive orca: Whales chew concrete and steel tank surfaces

ScienceDaily | 10/11/2017 | Staff
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Anyone with a toothache knows how painful and distracting that can be -- in orca which have around 48 large teeth, a sore tooth is likely no less painful or debilitating than for a person. Now, a new international study published in the journal Archives of Oral Biology, found that every individual examined had damaged teeth.

Study first author Professor John Jett of Florida's Stetson University, an ex-orca trainer, says the team investigated 29 orca owned by one company and held in the USA and Spain.

Whale - Form - Damage - Teeth - Cent

"Every whale had some form of damage to its teeth. We found that the more than 65 per cent possessed moderate to extreme tooth wear in their lower jaws, mostly as a result of chewing concrete and steel tank surfaces."

Additionally, the researchers found that more than 61 per cent of the orca they studied have "been to the dentist" to have their teeth drilled. Officially termed a "modified pulpotomy," a hole is drilled into the tooth to extract the soft pulpy tissue inside.

Study - Co-author - Dr - Carolina - Loch

Study co-author Dr Carolina Loch, a Faculty of Dentistry researcher at New Zealand's University of Otago, specializes in the dentition of whales and dolphins, and says that unlike us, the resultant hole is not filled or capped, but rather is left open for the rest of the animal's life, requiring daily flushing with chemicals to keep the teeth empty of food and bacteria in an attempt to manage resulting infection.

"Once the tooth gets worn to the point where the pulp is exposed this opens up a channel for disease and infection, so the staff then drill the teeth," Dr Loch says.

Dr - Jeff - Ventre - Study - Authors

Dr Jeff Ventre, another of the study authors, also an ex-orca trainer and now a medical doctor, says that he had drilled orca teeth in his former work. "Teeth damage is the most tragic...
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