Panda goes to dentist

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Panda Dental Work

SAN DIEGO — Giant panda Bai Yun underwent a dental procedure at the San Diego Zoo Wednesday to fix a broken tooth.

Animal keepers noticed one of the 23-year-old panda’s lower teeth was chipped, so the zoo’s veterinary team anesthetized her, took X-rays and made repairs.

“The good news is the pulp canal hadn’t been compromised, but it’s very close to breaking into the pulp canal,” said Meg Sutherland-Smith, associate director of veterinary services at the zoo. “What we attempted to do was a restorative procedure to cover up the part of the tooth that was chipped to, hopefully, prevent any further chipping or deterioration.”

Giant pandas use their teeth to chew and break apart bamboo, so their teeth can get worn or damaged over time. Giant pandas such as Bai Yun, a mother of six, can spend up to 12 hours a day eating bamboo, which is the primary source of their nutrition.

Giant pandas in the U.S. are on a research loan from China. The San Diego Zoo is one of four in the United States that participate in the program.

For a hefty fee to China, the zoos get to study the critically endangered species up close and help with breeding. At the same time, the pandas make for highly popular attractions.

Only around 1,600 pandas are believed to be left in the wild in China, in part because of deforestation and the expansion of farming. The panda has lost much of its forest habitat in the mountainous areas of southwest China to roads and railroads, according to the nonprofit World Wildlife Fund.