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Groundhog Day

By Matt Wood in Miscellaneous on Oct 12, 2005 4:25PM

2005_10_groundhog.jpgChicagoist thinks we had more orthodontic metal and plastic in our mouths as a kid than anyone in the western hemisphere. But if we hadn't we still could have eaten with our crooked teeth. Unfortunately, if some animals aren't blessed with straight choppers, they could die. Such is the case with groundhogs, or woodchucks. Their teeth grow constantly, and they need to grind against each other to file down or else they'll become too long and useless for eating. The Brookfield Zoo's 4-year old groundhog Stormy had a problem because his bottom teeth grew into a V, leaving a gap that his top teeth fit into. No grinding, no Stormy. So a creative veterinarian fixed Stormy's problem like any other buck-toothed, overbiting pre-teen: he put on braces.

Wisconsin animal dentist Tom Meehan put a stainless steel wire around Stormy's bottom teeth to close the gap. The wire has to be replaced every four weeks as the teeth grow, but Stormy is getting along nicely now and is eating his diet of fruits and vegetables with no problem. Meehan has also worked on the teeth of elephants, a polar bear, and primates, but he got the idea to put braces on Stormy from Milwaukee dentist John Scheels, who once used channel-lock pliers to repair a rhinoceros. Fortunately for Stormy, he is usually sedated during the procedure, and Meehan only has to use needle-nose pliers to put on the wire.

Meehan said that if Stormy were in the wild, he probably would have starved. This of course didn't soothe PETA spokeswoman Debbie Leahy, who told the Tribune, "Whenever these kinds of manipulations are involved, we wonder if there's something that needs to be corrected in the animal's environment." A dead, starved groundhog must be better than a living "manipulated" one in their book. The zoo rehabilitated Stormy after finding him injured in the wild three years ago.

Meehan said they'll have to keep close watch on Stormy during the winter as he hibernates. Groundhog teeth continue to grow during hibernation, so they may have to keep him more active to ensure that he keeps grinding them. Get some sleep if you can Stormy, we need you to be fresh in February.