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Dental and Temporomandibular Joint Pathology of the Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus)

Winer, J.N., Arzi, B., Leale, D.M., Kass, P.H., Verstraete, F.J.M.
Journal of comparative pathology 2016 v.155 no.2-3 pp. 231-241
Ursus maritimus, animals, females, juveniles, males, morbidity, mortality, neonates, osteoarthritis, periodontitis, roots, tooth enamel, young adults
Museum specimens (maxillae and/or mandibles) from 317 polar bears (Ursus maritimus) were examined macroscopically according to predefined criteria and 249 specimens were included in this study. The specimens were acquired between 1906 and 2011. There were 126 specimens (50.6%) from male animals, 93 (37.3%) from female animals and 30 (12.1%) from animals of unknown sex. The ages of the animals ranged from neonate to adult, with 125 adults (50.2%) and 124 young adults (49.8%) included and neonates/juveniles excluded from the study. The number of teeth available for examination was 7,638 (73.5%); 12.3% of teeth were absent artefactually, 0.8% were deemed absent due to acquired tooth loss and 13.4% were absent congenitally. With respect to tooth morphology, 20 teeth (0.26% of available teeth) in 18 specimens (7.2% of available specimens) were small vestigial structures with crowns that were flush with the level of surrounding alveolar bone. One supernumerary tooth and one tooth with enamel hypoplasia were encountered. Persistent deciduous teeth and teeth with an aberrant number of roots were not found. Relatively few teeth (3.7%) displayed attrition/abrasion, 90% of which were the maxillary and mandibular incisor teeth, in 41 polar bears (16.5%). Nearly twice as many adult specimens exhibited attrition/abrasion as those from young adults; significantly more males were affected than females. Dental fractures were noted in 52 polar bears, affecting 20.9% of specimens and 1.3% of the total number of teeth present. More adult polar bears had dental fractures than young adults. There were 21 specimens (8.4%) that displayed overt periapical disease, affecting a total of 24 dental alveoli (0.23%). Some degree of periodontitis was seen in 199 specimens (79.9%); however, only 12.6% of dental alveoli had bony changes indicative of periodontitis. Lesions consistent with temporomandibular joint osteoarthritis (TMJ-OA) were found in 23 specimens (9.2%). TMJ-OA was significantly more common in adults than in young adults and in males than in females. Although the clinical significance of dental and TMJ pathology in the polar bear remains elusive, the occurrence and severity of these lesions may play an important role in the morbidity and mortality of this species.