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A Sea Otter’s Dentist Appointment

“There’s a dentist for that?!”

That might be the first reaction for many when they hear Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium’s sea otter Libby took a trip to the dentist’s office (AKA the healthcare center at the zoo).

Dr. Kevin Stepaniuk, FAVD, DAVDC owns Veterinary Dentistry Education and Consulting Services and Veterinary Intraoral Radiology Reading Services and clinically works at Pacific Northwest Veterinary Dentistry and Oral Surgery. He and his team work on mostly dogs and cats, but occasionally get special requests for animals like… sea otters at the zoo.

dentist working on a sea otter
Sea otter Libby gets a dental exam

“We enjoy working on all animals, but it’s always exciting to get a call from the zoo,” said Dr. Stepaniuk.

On a Friday afternoon, Libby lay anesthetized on an exam room table awaiting Dr. Stepaniuk (they don’t have dentist chairs for sea otters). He walked into the room to his fishy-smelling patient and got right to work.

It’s not often a sea otter comes to the dentist, so he took full advantage of his time. One of Libby’s teeth had a previous root canal and the tooth had worn down around the filling. Within an hour, Libby’s damaged tooth was restored. Dr. Stepaniuk noticed another tooth that was fractured and repaired it too.

dentist working on a sea otter
Dr. Stepaniuk restores Libby’s damaged tooth

Dr. Stepaniuk brought his own dental radiograph imaging machine for the appointment. Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium will soon have one of its own, thanks to donations from the general public to The Zoo Society.


“It offers an advanced level of fine detail and will be able to take dental radiographs comparable to what people get when they go to the dentist,” said zoo veterinarian Dr. Kadie Anderson. “An oral exam can’t always catch all forms of dental disease. These radiographs will help us provide the best dental care and treatment and work with our dental consultants like Dr. Stepaniuk.”

The machine will also take better radiographs of the zoo’s small patients, like hourglass tree frogs, poison dart frogs and budgies.

dentist working on a sea otter
Sea otter Libby gets dental procedure

As Libby’s appointment wrapped up, Dr. Stepaniuk and Dr. Anderson discussed the sea otter’s dietary restrictions. Just like humans can’t eat certain foods after visiting the dentist, it’s the same for Libby. They agreed she could eat most of her regular diet but should skip the crab for a week to give her mouth some time to heal from the dental procedure.

Zoo veterinary staff also gave Libby full examination, including listening to her heart and lungs and checked for nasal mites. She was all-clear.