Orangutan Tooth Removal

During this summer’s bi-yearly medical examinations, the veterinarians discovered three orangutans; Melan, Jutak, and Umit, with decayed teeth. Decayed teeth in orangutans are removed to help alleviate the pain and ensure that the site does not become infected.

Dr. Tiono carefully cauterizes the area of tooth removal to prevent excess bleeding.

Dr. Tiono carefully cauterizes the area of tooth removal to prevent excess bleeding.

Dr. Rosa Garriga arranged for Dr. Tiono and Dr. Suharyoro, to conduct oral surgery. The other members of the surgery team included three orangutan care takers, two veterinary technicians, and Dr. Rosa and Dr. Wiwik. Before the surgery can begin, each orangutan must be anesthetized. In these procedures, a mixture of ketamine and medetomidine was used. The vet technician measures the heart and respiratory rate before the injection. While one assistant holds the orangutan in his arms, two other assistant each grab one of the orangutan’s feet and the veterinarian administers a shot of the anaesthesia. It is amazing that when the veterinarian goes behind the orangutan, he/she looks behind them to see what is happening. Thus someone must distract the orangutan while the shot is being given.

It only takes about three to five minutes before the orangutan falls asleep. During this process, the vet technician monitors the orangutan’s breathing and pulse rate. The sleeping orangutan is then taken into the surgery room, placed on the table, and oxygen is provided via nasal cannula.

Dr. Tiono quickly removes the pieces of Umit's decayed tooth.

Dr. Tiono quickly removes the pieces of Umit's decayed tooth.

The first orangutan to undergo tooth extraction was Umit, a four-year old male. His upper right second milk premolar had to be removed in pieces because the decay had destroyed most of the tooth. After the tooth was extracted, the area was cauterized to help prevent bleeding. It only took the doctors 15 minutes to complete the tooth removal. Umit was carried to the recovery area and received a reversal drug to wake him up. While Umit was waking up he held on very tightly to his assistant for the next thirty minutes.

Once Umit was in recovery the next patient, Jutak, received a shot of anesthesia. Jutak is a four-year-old female and she needed a milk premolar to be removed. The complete process, from anesthesia through surgery only took thirty minutes.

Look closely and you can see the barely erupted permanent teeth in the two sites where Melan’s upper milk molars were removed.

Look closely and you can see the barely erupted permanent teeth in the two sites where Melan’s upper milk molars were removed.

The third patient was a five-year-old female, Melan. She had one tooth with decay that needed to be extracted. The decay was so bad she had an extreme case of bad breath. While the doctor was getting ready to remove the first tooth, I was changing the settings on my camera to record the moment. He removed the bottom left premolar tooth before I could even take one picture. He also removed three more milk teeth that were dangling with the adult ones erupting immediately under them. All of the teeth that Melan had removed were milk teeth (also known as baby teeth). Orangutans start loosing their milk teeth at about five years of age.

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