Dentist helps treat endangered sea turtle at IMMS - - The News for South Mississippi

Dentist helps treat endangered sea turtle at IMMS

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A local dentist is doing something unusual to help an injured sea turtle recover. The endangered Kemp's Ridley turtle is on the mend at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies.

Dr. Andy Norowski is using dental techniques to re-build the turtle's broken shell. The turtle is nicknamed "Rocky" because he's such a fighter, despite facing some real adversity including a boat propeller injury and a previous shark bite.

"Each one of these lines here is a growth line," said Dr. Norowski, pointing to the turtle's damaged shell,

"The turtle shell is made of keratin, which is different from tooth enamel."

He's using dental expertise to treat Rocky. The dentist built a series of acrylic pieces to help rebuild the turtle's damaged shell.

"Get the shell to heal in a more natural, biologic way. And I'm using all dental techniques to do this," he said.

Along with the dental acrylic shell sections, orthodontic appliances are also attached to allow for growth.

"This is a palatal expander that's going to be used to push these two pieces apart. And we're going to try and lift them up and hold them in the correct position while it heals," said the dentist, pointing out the strange looking metal device between two sections of new shell.

Rocky arrived at IMMS in October with a boat propeller injury. Wendy Hatchett with the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies has been helping treat the injured turtle.

"We realized that he had a previous injury, more than likely caused by a shark. He had only half of a fore flipper on the left side, half of a hind flipper on the left side, and a large bite taken out of him," she said.

He's been a good patient who doesn't seem to mind the dentist.

"Doesn't complain as much as humans. He's pretty quiet and stoic. He's worked real good," said Dr. Norowski.

"These are one of the most endangered of the sea turtles found in the gulf. And this animal really would have died if we hadn't intervened," said Dr. Moby Solangi, the executive director at IMMS.

"We just want to make sure that it gets cleaned out," said Hatchett, as she cleaned the turtle's wound with a saline solution.

Rocky is making good progress and doesn't seem to mind his dental acrylic shell sections.

"He has been able to regain the use of his hind legs. When he first came in, they were paralyzed. And a couple weeks ago we noticed he was able to draw them back and regain the use of his hind legs, so that was pretty exciting," Hatchett said.

Dr. Norowski says Rocky is the first turtle he's worked on. He found a little advice on the internet, from a dentist in Florida who had previously worked on rebuilding a turtle shell.

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