King of the Jungle Had a Toothache

Dec. 14, 2001
AGD study reveals oral pain affected lions choice of prey.

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.

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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 behavior."

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.

Free fact sheets on tooth pain and sensitivity are available on the Web at .