How do you help a lion with a toothache?

A lion with a toothache. Now that could be a CAT-astrophe!

Luckily, the staff at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine was there to help the King of the Jungle when he needed a little help.

Africa, a 351 pound male lion, has spent his whole life in captivity at Tiger Haven in Roane County. He was born there, to a lioness that was pregnant when she came to the facility 18 years ago.

"He's had an issue with his teeth most of his life probably from poor nutrition to the mother before we got her," said Mary Lynn Haven, the director of Tiger Haven.

This wasn't his first trip to the vet school for a little dental work. For the past several weeks Africa has been in obvious pain.

"This guy's an enigma. He came in with having rubbed on the right side of his face. Because he's broken off all four of his canines in the past we were really concerned that he had an abscess or something associated with the teeth," said Dr. Ed Ramsey with UTCVM.

The key to big cat dentistry, obviously, is making sure the patient stays asleep.

He was sedated before he even arrived at the vet school. Vets performed a medical checkup and even a CT scan. The vet school can accommodate large animals in a special machine, even a 350 pound lion.

The doctors spotted a problem with a previous root canal, and with the help of some unconventional dental tools, Africa got his tooth ache fixed.

"We drilled out that old filling and replaced it and we're hoping that's going to make him feel better," said Dr. Ramsey.

The UT vet school is one of only a handful in the country that can do dentistry like this. With Tiger Haven's 285 big cats they get more patients than most.

"We probably do more dentistry on big cats than almost anybody around," said Dr. Ramsey.

What they learn here is shared with other wildlife veterinarians around the world.

"I would say that from a standpoint of contributions to the literature of big cats we've made an outstanding contribution," said Dr. Ramsey.

With the work done and still snoozing, Africa was loaded up for the trip back to Tiger Haven.

Even though he's a bit long in the tooth, vets said he should be OK.

"Hopefully he'll recover and live several more years for us," said Haven.

The dental work on Africa will cost several thousand dollars. Tiger Haven is always looking for help in caring for the animals they save. If you would like to help go to their website,


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