A kayaker watches a brown bear swimming in Anton Larsen Bay near Kodiak, Alaska, on Friday, July 13, 2012. Wendy Close Eskew, who operates kayak tours on Kodiak Island, said her group came across the 2 or 3-year-old animal as it swam from Whale Island to the shore of the bay, a distance of 4 miles. The bear eventually reached shore and ran unharmed into the brush, Eskew said. (AP Photo/Wendy Eskew, Kodiak Daily Mirror) Photo: Wendy Eskew, Associated Press / SF www.sfgate.com/nation/slideshow/Nation-in-Focus-46230.php#photo-3213643
4 Root Canals at Once - Bear of a Day at Zoo / Long day in lair for 1,600-pound S.F. zoo resident Steve Rubenstein, Chronicle Staff Writer Published 4:00 am, Thursday, January 30, 1997 Dewey, a very lucky bear, had four root canals yesterday .
He was so lucky that he also had two minor surgeries and a nose exam. It was a lively day in the bear house at the San Francisco Zoo.
Fortunately for Dewey, his keepers gave him a general anesthetic for the procedure. This was fortunate for the keepers, too.
"Otherwise," said keeper Deb Cano, stroking the fur of her 1,600-pound friend, "he'd be eating us right now."
Zoo veterinarians have known for months that Dewey's teeth were cracked and infec
ted, a condition bad for humans and worse for bears. Bad teeth will make a bear stop eating, which can lead to death. So the zoo made an emergency call to Dr. Paul Brown, a Palo Alto endodontist who has performed 35,000 root canals, mostly on humans -- with the occasional lion, snow leopard, jaguar and the Exxon tiger thrown in, he said, to keep the practice interesting. He donates his services to the zoo.
The procedure began around 10 a.m., and timing was critical. A Kodiak bear should not be anesthetized for more than three hours, and Brown had a golf date in Palo Alto at 1 p.m. His clubs were in the back seat of his car, next to the portable dental drill and X-ray machine. He checked his watch more than once.
Providing the dentist does not get eaten, said Brown, a root canal on a bear is not difficult. A bear tooth is 10 times larger than a human tooth, enabling the dentist to treat it with a genuine pipe cleaner, at a penny apiece, instead of the costly stuff from the dental supply house.
The procedure went without a hitch for about an hour until, without warning, the power went out.
This was as much a crisis for the humans as it was for the bear, because the anesthesia machine runs on electricity. If the anesthesia stopped and the bear woke up, he would doubtless take no kindlier to the proceedings than any other root canal patient.
The operation came to a halt. Cano made a mad dash down the corridor to the circuit breaker box at the far end of the bear house. It was clear that the circuit to Dewey's enclosure had been overloaded by the bright lights, X-ray machine and dental drill.
Cano began flipping switches. Nothing worked. The enormous brown hulk with his mouth propped open continued to sleep, but the keepers, now very animated, were considering whether to abandon the procedure and seek safer ground. Suddenly, the keeper flipped a switch she had at first overlooked and the power came back.
By now, the dentists were behind schedule. There was less than an hour left for the last three teeth. Brown and his assisting dentists, Sarah de Sanz and Scott Cohen, began passing instruments, syringes and pipe cleaners back and forth over the bear's snout with great speed. Meanwhile, zoo veterinarians took advantage of the bear's artificial hibernation to remove two growths near the animal's hip and ear and a polyp in his nose.
With only minutes to go, the dentists squirted the last dab of white goop into the last of the four teeth and hustled from the enclosure. Six keepers dragged the sleepy bear onto a scale and discovered that Dewey weighed 1,600 pounds, about 200 pounds more than they thought, then stepped from the cage, locked it, checked to make sure they had really locked it and then checked it again.
Brown crammed his machines into the back of the car and took off for Palo Alto faster than any of his patients ever bolted from his dental chair.