Mind Over Miller: Helping all creatures preserve their pearly whites


Dr. Robert M. Miller's adventures in wild animal dentistry.

I've written before about how when I moved to California's Conejo Valley back in 1957, the only industry in the area other than cattle and horse ranching was the wild animal industry.

A variety of private zoos, exotic-animal farms, and wild animal dealers as well as a circus were located here to serve the TV and movie industry in adjacent Los Angeles County, which had much more stringent zoning restrictions. This industry still exists in this area, but it is no longer on the main street of our largest community, Thousand Oaks. It's now out in the countryside.

Dentistry is an essential part of veterinary practice, and exotic-animal practice is no exception. Here are some photos taken back in those days showing me examining the dentition of a wolf, a chimpanzee, a lion, and an elephant. (Incidentally, elephants have few teeth, but they are quite large.) There were no tranquilizers or immobilizing drugs back then.

My wife took these photos, but she didn't happen to be with me one evening when I had to wade out into a dolphin pool to check a patient's teeth.

When Dr. Ross Case, a dentist, finally set up a practice in our little town, I sometimes asked for his assistance in dental cases. Once, for example, a large chimpanzee needed dental care. Together with the trainer we got the chimp into a chair and got his mouth open. Dr. Case was obviously and understandably apprehensive. But the chimp obediently opened his mouth widely, and, after a few minutes working in it and obviously absorbed in what he was doing, Dr. Case softly said, "A little wider please."

Robert M. Miller, DVM, is an author and a cartoonist, speaker, and Veterinary Medicine Practitioner Advisory Board member from Thousand Oaks, Calif. His thoughts in "Mind Over Miller" are drawn from 32 years as a mixed-animal practitioner. Visit his website at www.robertmmiller.com.

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