The Wild Side of Dentistry: The Contributions of Dr. Peter P. Emily

What happens when a tiger at a zoo breaks a canine?

Prior to the 1970s, the only option for animals—domestic and exotic—was pulling out the damaged tooth. In general, the world of veterinary dentistry was limited to two treatments: cleanings and extractions.

Then came along a dentist and part-time dog-breeder and show judge, Peter Emily, DDS. Dr. Emily's foray into veterinary dentistry stemmed from his breeding Doberman Pinschers and judging dog shows. Emily came across so many oral defects, he took to X-raying his pups to screen them for issues that would disqualify them from shows. His interests in canine dentistry grew and he started performing root canals on dogs.

Word got around and he was soon asked to consult on a case involving a hyena's fractured tooth at the Denver Zoo. He proposed a root canal instead of the typical extraction and developed his own custom set of tools for the job.

Animal dentistry hasn't been the same since. Now known as the grandfather of animal dentistry, Dr. Emily is an Honorary Diplomate of the American Veterinary Dental College, a teaching institution he helped to create in the '80s, and the Academy of Veterinary Dentistry.

Emily paved the way for animals of all kinds to benefit from many of the same treatments and techniques used in human dentistry, including periodontal treatment and restorative surgery. Over the course of his 40-plus-year career, he's treated dogs, cats, grizzly bears, polar bears, mountain lions, leopards, ferrets, kangaroos—and even toucans and owls!—among many other creatures.

In 2005, Emily established The Peter Emily International Veterinary Dental Foundation (PEIVDF) to promote the oral health of domestic and captive animals around the world. The foundation organizes veterinary dental missions across the globe to serve captive and rescued animals, and also provides training in animal dentistry to the staff at captive animal facilities and sanctuaries. (Veterinary and human dentists alike may take part in the missions.)

Although semi-retired, he remains active in animal dentistry as a consultant and an affiliate faculty member of Animal Dentistry at Colorado State University, School of Veterinary Medicine, and director of exotic animal dentistry at the Denver Zoological Gardens.

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