Florida Sea Turtle Owes Its Life to Denture Glue

A turtle rehab center in Florida turned to an unlikely substance to repair a sea turtle's fractured shell: denture glue.

Bette Zirkelbach, manager of the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Fla., was initially stumped when someone brought in a 40-pound sea turtle suffering from a fractured shell.

A boat strike had left the turtle with a 10-inch crack that made the animal vulnerable to infection. Zirkelbach said there were few options to help repair the fracture because of the severity of the injury.

"Historically, we have tried different marine epoxies and we haven't had a lot of luck," Zirkelbach said.

While brainstorming other ways to bond the turtle's shell back together, she called her dentist, Dr. Fred Troxel.

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Although dental glue had been used unsuccessfully before to repair sea turtle shells, Zirkelbach had hoped that Troxel might know of new substances that might work.

"It's a living thing; the outer layer [of the shell] is made of keratin," Zirkelbach said. "[It's] the same thing our fingernails are made out of and it's hard to adhere to."

Although Troxel had never tried to repair a sea turtle's shell before, he realized that it might be similar to the bonding he uses in his dental practice.

"In modern dentistry, you make something non-organic like a crown stick to something organic," he said. "There are all kinds of different [bonding agents.]"

Troxel used a waterproof denture resin to help repair the fracture and added prosthetic pieces to the parts of the shell that were missing.

A few weeks after resin was applied, Zirkelbach said the sea turtle named "Elena" was doing well and was no longer considered to be in critical condition.

Injured Sea Turtle Recovers

"I'm certainly going to keep checking on it. If this bond fails, then I'll go to plan B," Troxel said. "We're certainly in uncharted territory here."

Zirkelbach said she expects the turtle will need about a year of rehabilitation before being returned to the wild.

Fred Troxel, left, is seen repairing the shell of Elena, a green sea turtle, on Sept. 11, 2013 at the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Fla. (Courtesy Turtle Hospital)