On the morning of Saturday, June 29, Drs. Tjepkema and Hubbard arrived at the Wildlife Center to assess the molar of Black Bear yearling #13-0420. The Center’s three veterinarians – Drs. Dave, Rich, and Dana – were all present at the Wildlife Center.
Shortly after the visiting doctors arrived, the yearling was darted and, once fully sedated, was brought down into the hospital. Drs. Tjepkema and Hubbard carefully examined the bear’s teeth and noted gum disease around the bear’s injured tooth. Radiographs were taken; the two doctors suspected an abnormality with one of the tooth’s roots, though it was difficult to definitively interpret. Removing the bear’s molar would be a lengthy and difficult procedure, but in the end, the team decided that this would be the best course of action for the bear. Treatment for a similar injury in a dog would likely be different – but when dealing with a wild animal that will be released [and unavailable for re-checks], different strategies are often applied!
The tooth-removal surgery took 90 minutes. Drs. Tjepkema and Hubbard drilled the tooth into several sections so that the four roots of the tooth could be more easily removed. This enabled them to successfully remove the whole tooth without fracturing off the roots – which would have required surgical removal of the surrounding bone so that the tooth roots could be retrieved. Once the entire tooth was removed, the team was able to see that the bear’s molar was dead and had a tooth root abscess.
Dr. Rich suspects that the yearling was at the height of an infection of the tooth root in May when the bear stopped eating for several days. When the tooth died, the bear likely stopped feeling pain, and began to eat a bit more. While that made some of the bear’s symptoms harder to interpret, had the veterinary team not persisted in fully assessing the tooth, the abscess would have led to bone destruction and more tooth and mouth problems.
After Saturday’s surgery, the bear is recovering in the Center’s bear pen. The rehabilitation staff will provide a soft diet for the yearling and will carefully monitor the bear’s food intake. In mid-July, the bear will be sedated again for an oral check-up.
The Wildlife Center would like to thank Dr. Jennifer Tjepkema and Dr. Rachel Hubbard for generously donating their skills and time to help Black Bear #13-0420 return to the wild!