When it comes to dental work, usually it’s the patient who feels nervous - but perhaps on this occasion the dentist could be forgiven for being a little apprehensive…

Paignton Zoo’s 28 stone silverback Western lowland gorilla Pertinax has had a root canal operation.

Jo Reynard, from the Paignton Zoo vet team, explained: “When a tooth is fractured the living pulp becomes exposed. This can lead to an infection and an abscess. The dentist removed the pulp and replaced it with special biocompatible material, so preserving the tooth. It is quite an involved procedure.”

For most dentists, staring into the mouth of a gorilla would be more than a little disconcerting, but Peter Kertesz is not the sort of man to get nervous. Peter is one of only a few specialist zoo dentists in the world. He has worked on exotic species – including gorillas, whales, pandas and elephants – all over the globe, from Britain and Europe, Hong Kong, Moscow and the Middle East.

Peter: “Animals or people, it’s all the same – they need treatment, they get treatment. The size is what varies - and the location. It is all about teamwork.”

The team assembled for this job included vets Jo Reynard and Ghislaine Sayers and vet nurses Celine Campana and Kelly Elford, all from the Paignton Zoo vet team, plus Paignton Zoo Environmental Park Curator of Mammals Neil Bemment and Craig Gilchrist, Cat Steart, Anne Lunt and Gemma Keohane from the mammals team. Peter was assisted by his dental nurse, Monika Mazurkiewicz..

Neil Bemment said: “We were really pleased that Peter was able to come and assist with Pertinax. Dentistry is a highly-specialist field, all the more so in exotic animals. Pertinax deserves the best and duly got it. The operation was a complete success.”

The root canal treatment took about 40 minutes, but Pertinax was asleep for just over 2 hours as vets took the opportunity to give him a full health check. Pertinax, who weighs in at 179 kilos (around 28 stone), was understandably groggy afterwards, but back to his normal self the following day.

Peter Kertesz has a dental practice in London. His first experience of animal dentistry was when he looked at a cat for a vet in 1978. He started working with London Zoo and the International Zoo Veterinary Group and set up Zoodent International in 1985.

He takes the same rigorous approach whether his patient is animal or human: “People often ask me if it is fun working on gorillas and tigers. 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.”

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