Animals

By Charles Wade-Palmer


If you thought having your teeth checked was scary spare a thought for the dentist who treats big cats for a living.

From Elephants to Polar Bears, top veterinary dentist, Dr Gerhard Steenkamp, 50, from Pretoria, South Africa has done it all but the fear never goes away.

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The senior lecturer at the University of Pretoria, Faculty of Veterinary Science has lost count of how many species he has come to the aid of with his elite team who travel wherever needed.

Gerhard said: “Working with dangerous animals is a massive privilege but an enormous responsibility.

“As a team of veterinarians and keepers we always need to keep the safety of the people, animal and its surroundings in mind.

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“One small mishap can lead to a disaster.

“I do not have a count of the amount of species, but safe to say I have been blessed in my profession and have worked on mammals ranging from a small insect eating bat to a seven tonne elephant.

“I have worked on terrestrial and aquatic beings. Reptiles, birds and more.”

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Using  a lot of specialist anaesthetic, Dr Gerhard is able to get hands on with the animals who need him most whether they are wild or domestic, nearby or thousands of miles away.

After a lengthy education and training process, Gerhard is now the envy of vets around the world as there is no animal whose teeth are too big or small.

Gerhard said: “Being in Africa it was at first difficult to convince people that wild animals also suffer from toothache and need dental care, but during especially the last ten years my wildlife work has increased to take up nearly 50% of what I do.

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“This is not due to me, but so many colleagues that now understand the essential work we do and referring cases to me.

“Every time I work with elephants is so memorable, I adore them and know that whatever we get to do with them, is because they allow us to.

“I think my practice deals with a volume of cases which other colleagues are envious of and it’s well known for treatment of tusked animals, especially elephants.

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“All these animals eat different things and it is just incredible how their teeth are so carefully adapted for these differing diets.

“The sheer size of elephant tusks astounded me and the engineers who helped me develop the equipment needed to treat them successfully.”

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Based in his home city of Pretoria, Gerhard frequently travels wherever needed and and has racked up quite the portfolio of nashers.

These graphic photos show the wild dentist putting his hands in the mouths of everything from Rhinos to Cheetahs and even a Skunk.

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“I honestly cannot remember the first animal I treated but it most probably was a domestic dog, as that is the most common animal we see as mixed or small animal vets in South Africa.

“The lower tusks of hippos are extremely sharp, even from a distance they look sharp enough to slice a piece of paper with them.

“Brushing their teeth is a good start but unfortunately when dealing with wild animals you often get called in once there is advanced disease.

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“The process is dependant on where the patient is and how easy it is to get to and treat the individual.

“Most readers will know that they often have to go to a dentist more than once to treat a specific tooth related problem, but we often have to do everything in one go.

“It is rare that we get to see our patients again so preparation beforehand is therefore crucial to the success of the intended treatment.

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“I use only a few veterinarians as my anaesthetists as the animals we work on are usually very valuable both monetarily and emotionally and hence a good team is essential.

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“When travelling abroad we often then work with the veterinary teams of the facilities we go to and this is a fantastic opportunity to interact with colleagues from across the globe.

“My motto is and always will be that veterinary science is a team sport and together we always strive to do the best for our patients.”