When the Detroit Zoo's Animals Feel Down in the Mouth, They Turn to Dentist Terry Myers

updated 03/28/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/28/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

Some of his clients have to be out cold before dentist Terry Myers will even examine them. After all, who'd say "Open wide" to a fully alert ape or tiger? Myers, 35, spends one day a month at the Detroit Zoo treating its residents for free—but only after they're fully tranquilized. There was that time, he says, when the gorilla Jim-Jim woke up too soon: "I was halfway done cleaning his teeth, and this big hairy arm wrapped around my leg!"

Since even zoo animals get scant dental care—many endure toothaches and periodontal pain for years—Myers has seen many diseased maws. He's had to yank out several broken and abscessed molars and, with the zoo's vet, has begun a preventive dentistry program. This month he filled two cavities—his first at the zoo—for Peanuts, a 13-year-old chimpanzee. Bones have been added to the diets of the big cats: The little chomping they'd done with their old fare of boneless meat had weakened their teeth and gums.

The son of a retired General Motors executive, Myers grew up with snakes, alligators and monkeys as pets. "We always had something unusual," he says. Now practicing in Walled Lake near the suburban Farmington Hills home he shares with his wife and two kids, he has only Duke, a golden retriever. Through the contacts of two patients who are present and former directors of the zoo, he began treating its animals last year. So far he's worked on the apes, tigers and cheetahs. Next: the lions and bears.

Myers likes animals, of course. But the real satisfaction, he notes, comes when the keepers point out "how much more pep and zing" their charges have after treatment. Live with a 10-year toothache? That, says Myers, shouldn't happen even to a chimp.

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