December 12, 2001
Academy of General Dentistry Reveals
King of the Jungle Had a Toothache
- In 1898, a pair of male lions killed 135 workers constructing a bridge in
Africa, halting production for months. Eventually the lions were killed, but
the big cats attained a mythical status. Even the 1994 film based upon the
events, The Ghost and the Darkness, suggested the pair had supernatural
qualities that made them virtually invulnerable.
(Photo: http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20010426/ACADDENLOGO )
You can't blame Hollywood -- it's much more dramatic than the more likely
explanation for the massacre: the lions' teeth hurt, according to a new
report in General Dentistry, the clinical, peer-reviewed journal of the
Academy of General Dentistry.
From examining the lions' skulls, forensic dentists believe the cats
suffered from oral lesions, which caused the animals incredible pain
whenever pressure was applied. The lions' normal prey -- zebras, gazelles
and water buffalo -- have tough hides, large bones and a dense network of
muscles. This amount of pressure on the teeth probably was too much for the
lions, and they switched to humans, who were considerably weaker and softer.
In essence, the condition of their teeth affected their behavior.
While a toothache wouldn't drive us to these extremes, oral pain can alter
our behavior. "A toothache can make a person edgy, uncomfortable and highly
irritable," says Howard S. Glazer, DDS, FAGD, spokesperson for the Academy,
an organization of general dentists dedicated to continuing dental
education. "[Tooth discomfort can] definitely cause a modification of
While it is impossible to tell if a fatal animal attack was due to a tooth
injury, dentists can observe changes in their patients' behavior to help
diagnose a possible tooth problem, Dr. Glazer said. For example, if you have
complaints of pain while drinking something hot, like coffee, or have been
awakened by pain, Dr. Glazer says the most likely culprit is nerve pain.
Your dentist can treat the cause.