Elephant Gets Dental Caps on Tusks

Elephant Gets Dental Caps on Tusks

After a 3.5 hour operation in which dentists fitted a pachyderm’s tusks with 50-centimetre-long stainless steel dental caps, elephant Spike broke the world record for largest dental caps on this day in 2002.

It all started when the 20-year-old, 5,443-kilogram Asian elephant was engaged in his favorite activity, rough-housing with a tire, his toy of choice, at the Calgary Zoo in Alberta, Canada. His play became so rough that Spike broke his left tusk. An unusual rescue came in the form of the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) in Calgary. SAIT collaborated with Corus Steel (which donated the metal) and 3M (which donated the adhesive) to create the massive stainless steel tusk caps for Spike. The caps measured approximately 50 centimetres long, 13 centimetres in diameter, and 13 kilograms each, in weight.

According to the Guinness World Records, more dental adhesive was used in this one procedure than all the dentists in Canada used collectively throughout 2001. The dental caps were a smashing success, preventing further cracking and infection of Spike’s tusks. (Though he only broke one tusk, Spike was fitted with two caps to keep him balanced.)

Until 2008, that is, when Spike got himself into more trouble with his pachyderm dentist. In late 2008 he got entangled in a watering machine. While struggling to free himself, the restless elephant broke his right tusk, snapping it off just above its stainless steel cap. Concerned that his broken tusk might become abscessed, Spike’s dental team (the Calgary Zoo staff) decided to fit him with a new cap, once again. They turned again to SAIT, which used SolidWorks 3D CAD software to design a computer-generated model of the caps. After wooden prototypes were fitted—again—to Spike’s tusks, the actual caps were then molded from high-grade stainless steel.

This time, engineers fitted the tusks more precisely, giving the tusks a curved shape that follows the natural contours of an elephant’s tusks. At this point, Spike likely developed a fear of the dentist and has thus far avoided more dental disasters.