Grin and bear it: Kamloops grizzly undergoes root canal

Knute probably didn't realize chewing on his cage (and everything else) could damage his teeth, but when he broke one of his incisors, a team of experts performed a massive dental surgery on the bear.

'Anything he can get his mouth around, he will put his mouth around. He’s kinda like a three year old'

Knute during his surgery. The eight-year-old grizzly was put on a rock climbing crash pad and a large borrowed table during the procedure. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

Eight-year-old Knute somehow bit off more than he could chew, breaking one of his nine-centimetre long teeth as a result.

The grizzly bear went under general anesthesia last week while a swarm of veterinarians and dental experts worked to repair the giant incisor.

"Honestly, it could have been anything. He's a playful bear," said Adrian Clay, animal care supervisor at the B.C. Wildlife Park in Kamloops where Knute lives.

"Anything he can get his mouth around, he will put his mouth around. He's kinda like a three year old."

Knute's caretakers say he could have broken his teeth any number of ways because he's a playful bear who will chew on anything. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

'Ridiculously difficult' logistics

Staff at the park said they noticed Knute was in pain because he was lifting his lips away from the infected tooth and favouring one side of his mouth.

The surgery took place with the massive animal lying face down on a rock climbing crash pad borrowed from the local gym, and a large table on loan from the Royal Inland Hospital.

"Absolutely everything here is perfect for the whole set up and it couldn't have worked out any better, and yet, the logistics to get it to this point was ridiculously difficult," said Clay.

Knute's dentistry team included two veterinarians from the University of Calgary veterinary medical program, a dental specialist from Kelowna a local large animal specialist and a number of others to facilitate the bear's root canal.

An array of tools was needed to remove Knute's upper right incisor, which was cracked and infected, causing some unbearable discomfort for the large mammal. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

Alfredo Romero, an instructor in diagnostic imaging and large animal surgery at the University of Calgary said it was part curiosity, part professional development that persuaded him to donate his time.

He's worked with some big animals before, but never a grizzly.

"I've worked on a Bengal tiger and a zebra and a camel but this will be the first bear I've worked on," he told CBC Daybreak Kamloops' Jenifer Norwell.

Veterinary Anaesthesiologist Nigel Caulkett has a background in putting bears to sleep, but is used to working with them in the wild. There, an infected tooth can be fatal to bears because they may not be able to eat enough food to sustain them when they hibernate for the winter, according to the medical team.

For Teresa Jacobsen, an Okanagan vet, being a part of the procedure was a thrilling change of pace from her Lake Country practice.

"This tooth is infected and when the tooth is infected it's painful. That black stuff coming out of the tooth right now is the dead pulp," Jacobsen explained while digging around Knute's massive mouth.  

She said it's a neat opportunity to let people know that dental work is possibility for many kinds of animals, not just cats and dogs.

"Plus it's really quite cool," she said.

With files from CBC Radio One's Daybreak Kamloops and Jenifer Norwell