A recently retired general dentist from Wauwatosa, Dr. John Scheels has been a Wisconsin Dental Association member for 48 years. If you know him, then you probably know that for over 40 years of his career, he has been serving as the primary dental consultant for the animals at the Milwaukee County Zoo.
Dr. Scheels majored in zoology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee before attending Marquette University School of Dentistry. He stumbled upon a magazine article about a zoo dentist and was intrigued enough to start volunteering his services at the Milwaukee County Zoo in 1981. Since then, he has treated over 90 different species, including elephants, gorillas, tigers, polar bears – you name it! His work mostly consists of tooth extractions, but he has also performed many endodontic procedures. Repairing beaks, bills and tusks is also within his repertoire.
Dr. Scheels is truly passionate about his work at the Zoo. He is eager to share (and show) what he does with others. After speaking with Dr. Scheels about his work this past fall, he invited me to observe
a dental procedure he was doing at the Milwaukee County Zoo’s Animal Health Center. As someone who has never observed any sort of medical procedure, let alone one involving an exotic animal, you can bet I was a little nervous. However, Dr. Scheels’ comforting and inviting demeanor calmed my nerves and I was able to watch an inspiring and impressive procedure.
The procedure was a follow-up visit with Elvis, a colobus monkey. Dr. Scheels had previously done two root canals on the monkey’s teeth. This time, he was prepared to extract a problematic molar tooth. From the moment Elvis was brought into the Animal Health Center, the process was seamless. The veterinary staff had Elvis in a sedated and comfortable state while Dr. Scheels examined his teeth and carefully extracted the
tooth. Elvis was waking up from sedation in his crate within no time.
You may be wondering how a dentist gets involved in exotic animal dentistry. Of course, zoology studies, dental and veterinary education come in handy, but the information necessary to provide optimal treatment
and care of exotic animal dental cases at zoos is not always readily available.
Early on, Dr. Scheels, like many others, was “learning on the job.” To ensure those who are interested in exotic animal dentistry can have access to valuable resources, Dr. Scheels took the time to create his website,
exoticanimaldentistry.com, to share the experience and knowledge he accumulated while he served as a zoo dental consultant for over 40 years.
The website is robust, containing information on endodontics, extractions, information on herbivores and primates, photos, case studies and more. Individuals from around the country and the world have reached out to Dr. Scheels about the website. If you’re interested in exotic animal dentistry, it’s a resource you’ll want to check out.
In addition to his collection of online educational materials, Dr. Scheels has also helped to preserve and compile many animal skulls and other imagery to help assist the individuals working at the Zoo’s Animal Health Center. Dr. Scheels shared that his work at the Milwaukee County Zoo is his way of giving back to his community. The care he provides to animals is volunteer-based. He steps in for dental procedures at the Zoo
in his spare time, rarely charging for payment unless he has an assistant helping. He wishes to see more interest and volunteerism in this area of dentistry, since there are few dentists who share this same passion.
Although the work can be intimidating, it’s definitely rewarding to know you’re contributing to the overall health of the exotic animals that families come to see and enjoy, year-round!