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Tuesday, Sep 16, 2014
Offbeat

Marathon dentist helps fix sea turtle’s shell


Published:

MARATHON – A dentist has aided efforts to mend an endangered green sea turtle’s fractured shell at the Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys.

On Thursday, Fred Troxel examined Elena, a 40-pound adolescent reptile he had treated the day before by using 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 washed up after it suffered a collision with a boat.

For most of that time, the turtle’s condition was listed as critical. Hospital officials have been 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 repairing the shell.

“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 came up with a denture repair adhesive, an acrylic resin which thus far is holding.

“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.”

Troxel said he has been practicing dentistry in the Keys for more than 35 years, and although he has helped a number of Keys animals, it’s the first time he has treated a sea turtle.

Hospital manager Bette Zirkelbach said Thursday she is optimistic Elena can one day be released into the wild. But the reptile faces a lengthy road to a full recovery, including the surgical removal of several fibropapilloma tumors caused by a herpes-like virus that impacts sea turtles around the world.

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