Dentist mends sea turtle's fractured shell

Dentist mends sea turtle's fractured shell

A Florida Keys dentist has aided efforts to mend an endangered green sea turtle’s fractured shell.

On Thursday, Fred Troxel examined Elena, a 40-pound adolescent reptile he had treated the day before at the Florida Keys-based Turtle Hospital. Troxel utilized a denture repair adhesive to bond two metal orthopedic plates across a 10-inch split on the turtle’s carapace.

The hospital has been caring for Elena for a month since it was recovered from a Key West beach. Officials believe the turtle beached after it was likely inadvertently struck by a boat.

The turtle’s condition was listed as critical since it arrived. Treatment included administering a broad-spectrum antibiotic and vitamins as well as tube-feeding Elena on a daily basis.

Earlier this week the turtle began eating on its own and hospital officials began to focus on fixing the shell.
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“Classically, they (hospital staff) had problems with getting things to adhere to the shell, so as a dentist they were asking me to help them figure out what might be the materials that can do it,” Troxel said. “Maybe I had something in my toolbox.”

Troxel conceived the use of a denture repair adhesive, an acrylic resin which thus far is holding the two orthopedic plates tightly across the fracture.

“Modern dentistry is about bonding restorative materials to teeth, which are organic substances,” he said. “In this case we are bonding something that’s a mechanical device to an organic substance, which is the turtle shell.”

Hospital manager Bette Zirkelbach said she is very optimistic Elena can one day be released back into the ocean.

But Elena has a long road to a full recovery. Necessary treatment also will include the surgical removal of several fibropapilloma tumors caused by a herpes-like virus that affects sea turtles around the world.

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