Indian Dentist: Elephant Tusk Surgery Was an "Elephantine Task"

By Jennifer Welsh | November 29, 2010 10:52 am

asian-elephantIn late November, Indian dentists set to work filling the largest cavity they have ever seen. Their patient, Devidasan the elephant, had a 20-inch-long crack in his tusk that had caused him pain for over five years, kept him from participating in festivals, and posed an infection risk.

Dentist CV Pradeep performed the unprecedented operation, which took two and a half hours to complete. The dentistry team used 47 times the amount of resin they would have used to fill a human tooth, and they modified their tools for use on the elephant’s tusk, Pradeep explained to BBC News:

“It was literally an elephantine task, because we had to find specialist equipment and modify it,” Dr Pradeep said. “The main difference between this and a similar operation carried out on humans is that we were not able to use X-ray screening, because none of our mobile X-ray units was large enough to suit the elephant’s needs.”

Devidasan was kept awake during the procedure, but the dentists report that he was fully cooperative. The dentists used the same procedure they would have for a cracked human tooth–just on a much larger scale. Pradeep told BBC News that Devidasan looked much happier after they were done with the filling. He is now fully healed and is back to participating in Hindu festivals.

This was the first elephant tusk-filling of its kind, so the dentists aren’t sure how long it will hold. They estimate it will stick for at least a few years, depending on how quickly the tusk grows.

Related Content:
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Discoblog: Animal Prosthetics: False Limbs for Elephants, and Silicone Where You’d Least Expect It
Discoblog: Could DNA Tell Us Where Smugglers Get Their Ivory?
80beats: Elephant-Lovers Worry About Controversial Ivory Auctions in Africa
DISCOVER: Tusk Tales

Image: Wikimedia Commons

  • Jockaira

    What I find so amazing about this story is that “Devidasan was kept awake during the procedure, but the dentists report that he was fully cooperative.” I would have thought that the “dentists” would have anaesthized the animal for his own comfort and their own safety. The fact that there was so much mutual trust shows (to me) an unprecedented communication and understanding between two species.

    Again, I am astounded.

  • salim

    Elephants (well, the ones that I have known in Kerala, India where Devidasan is from) have amazing relationship with their handlers and other humans.

    Ok nitpicking time. Isn’t that an african elephant in the picture? Devidasan is an Indian elephand :-)

  • buddy

    I agree with salim.. Kerala is a great place where elephants are treated so well 99% of the times and they gel with humans so well. Visit kerala and you will find out

  • Eliza Strickland

    @ salim: We love nitpicking! You’re right, and thanks for the catch. I’ve swapped in a picture of a smaller-eared Asian elephant.

    — Eliza, DISCOVER online news editor

  • Dr. Robert Nelson

    The first elephant tusk filling? Amazing! What type of resin/ composite did you use? I will be interested to see how long it lasts with the far from usual wear/tear.

    – Dr. Robert Nelson


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