Open Wide! See How a Gorilla Visits the Dentist

Pertinax, a 400-pound gorilla, had to get a root canal.

ByABC News
December 14, 2015, 1:52 PM

— -- While a root canal can be unpleasant for any patient, in the case of Pertinax, a nearly 400-pound gorilla, it can be a scary experience for the entire dental staff as well.

The western lowland gorilla developed a fracture this month that could have led to a dangerous abscess if British zoo officials didn’t work fast to give the giant primate a root canal.

But a root canal on an animal as strong as Pertinax requires a little finesse. Medical staff, including specialist zoo dentist Dr. Peter Kertesz of the Paignton Zoo in Devon, England, had to put the gorilla on enough anesthesia to knock him out for two hours.

"People often ask me if it is fun working on gorillas and tigers," Kertesz said in a statement. "It certainly is not fun. It is very hard and serious work. The health and sometimes the life of a rare creature is in your hands.”

Kertesz has worked on plenty of exotic animals from elephants to tigers and even whales. He said the key to working with unusual or oversize animals is having the right people on his team.

"Animals or people, it’s all the same: They need treatment, they get treatment," Kertesz added. "The size is what varies, and the location. It is all about teamwork.”

At least 10 people helped with the dental procedure, which took about 45 minutes of careful work to fix Pertinax's tooth.

While the gorilla was a bit groggy after the operation, zoo officials confirmed to ABC News that he was up and back in the exhibit area a day after the operation.

"Dentistry is a highly-specialist field, all the more so in exotic animals," Neil Bemment, Paignton Zoo environmental park curator of mammals, said in a statement. "Pertinax deserves the best and duly got it. The operation was a complete success.”