EL PASO, Texas – How do you perform a root canal?

It’s a delicate and even risky medical procedure, and it’s only one of many extreme procedures happening at the El Paso Zoo.

In 2017, the El Paso Zoo made headlines after it was showcased on National Geographic when zoo veterinarians and outside specialists pioneered a breast cancer treatment for Juno the elephant.

A tiger root canal is a special procedure, but the risk was highlighted when ABC-7’s team walked into the operating room and noticed zookeepers with shotguns to ensure everyone’s safety.

Special Report: How El Paso zookeepers perform root canals on tiger

When your patient is a 250-pound Malayan tiger, “there’s a sense of urgency all the time,” said associate veterinarian Misty Garcia.

The staff only gets one hour to perform the root canal.

“We have to be quick because these animals can’t be sedated for a very long time,” said dentist Bridgette Burris.

“Obviously, there’s a risk because there’s a dangerous animal,” Garcia said.

Keeping Seri, as the tiger is called, under anesthesia is crucial to the safety of the tiger and the staff.

“We have one veterinarian technician that’s constantly monitoring the animal,” Garcia said.

Staff constantly checks Seri’s blood pressure, heart rate and breathing to make sure the tiger remains in a deep sleep.

“Any time, especially if we have a dangerous carnivore down, we make sure they are intubated. They have have a tube where they are constantly getting gas anesthesia. They also have a intravenous catheter so, if we need to give medication right away, we have vascular access that will be able to work quickly,” Garcia said.

The root canal itself is pretty much performed as it would be on a human. In fact, Burris and her team are people dentists.

“We’ve been volunteering here at the El Paso Zoo for 27 years,” Burris said.Even for the experts, the procedure required research and a month of planning.

“Before I come they tell me what tooth it is and then I study the anatomy on what that tooth is going to look like on that species and we go from there,” Burris said.

Burris told ABC-7 that the tools have to be ordered specially and preparation is essential.

“Just getting the tools we need here and making sure we have everything we need because if we forget something it’s too late. We can’t run back to the office and pick it up,” Burris said.

Staff members check X-rays to make sure the nerve has been properly removed. Then, they seal the tooth to prevent bacteria from infecting the area again. They even clean up some plaque off the tiger’s teeth.

Although the staff members are focused during the procedure, they are still in awe of their patient.

“Anytime you get this close to a big animal like that it’s always really exciting. I mean, you can see the power that they have when they are close-up,” Garcia said.

“They are majestic, the animals are. They are just amazing,” Burris said.

Remember, Burris and her team aren’t getting paid but, to them, the experience is priceless.

“It’s very rewarding because I’m an animal lover and so, if I can help in any way with helping these animals stay healthy, I’m all for it,” Burris said.

When last checked, the procedure had gone as expected, and Seri was being lazy under the sun, being lazy. She’s back to eating lots of meat and her favorite treat, whole fish.

Author: Jerry Nala

Originally Posted: https://www.kvia.com