According to an AACD survey, virtually all adults (99.7%) surveyed believe a healthy smile is socially important, but that doesn’t mean that dental care is exclusive to humans — healthy mouths are important for animals, too. That’s why Virginia dentist Dr. Barron Hall stopped by the National Zoo in D.C. to provide some much-needed teeth cleaning to one lucky lion named Luke.
Like humans, an unhealthy mouth can make an animal sick. It’s especially important for exotic animals like Luke, who show teeth to look strong. Animals tend to instinctively hide a bad tooth, which makes them look weaker and can cause further injury or death in the wild.
Dr. Hall, from Vienna, works specifically with exotic animals. He’s in high demand at zoos and sanctuaries all over the world. He is a member of Veterinarians Without Borders, which provides animals in sanctuaries with free healthcare and helps train locals to care for animals in their area. His involvement in the foundation has led to encounters with all sorts of exotic animals.
“I’ve worked on black bears, grizzly bears, brown bears, pretty much every cat,” said Hall. “A hippo I haven’t done. Polar bear’s on my bucket list.”
Luke was put under for his cleaning.
“Since they’re wild animals, you can’t just go and lift their lips,” said Dr. Hall.
Luke’s vital signs were monitored by a team of medical technicians during the procedure, keeping the 400-pound carnivore sleeping peacefully, his paws warmed by colorful mittens.
Luke the lion’s experience at the National Zoo in D.C. began when he was just one year old — about 10 years ago.
“Luke was brought in to our facility from a facility in South Africa, which means his specific genetic line was not represented in North America at all…he’s been an outstanding breeding animal,” said Craig Saffoe, National Zoo big cats curator. “He’s produced five litters, four of which have all survived. He’s had a great run for us.”