Dr. John Scheels - Exotic Animal Dentistry Dr. John Scheels - Exotic Animal Dentistry
Dr. John Scheels - Exotic Animal Dentistry Dr. John Scheels - Exotic Animal Dentistry
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Mission Statement

The purpose of this website is to share the experience and knowledge accumulated while serving as a zoo dental consultant. I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to treat over 90 species primarily at the Milwaukee County Zoo since 1981. I have also worked with numerous other zoos and private veterinary practitioners. These efforts have provided a wealth of experience that has revealed patterns of pathoses and effective treatments.

Dr. John Scheels - Exotic Animal Dentistry Haley, Brookfield Zoo
Photo by James Schulz

I correspond with veterinarians and zoo dental consultants regarding treatment regularly. The questions and case types are often repetitive. It has been clear to me for some time that the information necessary to facilitate optimal treatment of exotic animal dental cases in the zoo setting is still not that readily available. Resources do exist to learn how to approach these cases, but finding them can still be a challenge. Zoo dentistry presents unique challenges involving determining whether an oral or dental problem exists, diagnosis, treatment planning, comprehensive treatment, often times in less than ideal situations and limited follow up.

Many zoo veterinarians enlist human dentists as dental consultants. Until the veterinary dentistry specialty developed, this was their only choice other than to learn dentistry themselves. Some do that to a limited degree. Veterinary dentistry has become a specialty since the 1990s. There are still less than 200 Board Certified veterinary dental specialists worldwide.

Veterinary dentists are primarily expert at treating carnivores, dogs and cats. They also commonly treat other "exotic" pets such as small monkeys, guinea pigs, and ferrets etc. The range of species in zoos still presents many additional groups of animals. And there just aren't enough veterinary dentists to serve all the zoos and other exotic animal entities yet.

In 1986 I was invited to develop an elective dentistry course at the new University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine. Along with veterinary surgeon Dr. Paul Howard, we developed a course and conducted continuing education classes for several years. Our efforts were greatly enhanced when Dr. Bill Gengler came on board and eventually took it over, when I left after 12 years. It has developed into a full dental curriculum and a staff of two boarded veterinary dentists with a residency program.

For ten years I worked with equine veterinarian, Dr. Jo Randolph. We broke new ground treating equine dental cases. We used dental handpieces to facilitate dental restorations, endodontics and oral and facial surgery. We used cadaver heads to learn and plan cases on horses and llamas. Some of these cases were presented at the AVDS meeting in 1994. Currently equine dentists have elevated the field through the utilization of the most sophisticated technology to understand equine dental anatomy and physiology.

I am pleased to see the impressive growth of comprehensive equine dentistry in recent years. It has become the focus of many dedicated equine veterinarians. The equine dentition anatomy and physiology has become much more thoroughly understood and addressed. Many new treatment modalities are being developed based on this increasing depth of understanding. Alongside this knowledge, specialized equipment has been developed to optimize treatment outcomes.

My intention is to complement the excellent, expanding literature of veterinary dentistry regarding the specific nature of treating captive exotics as a zoo dental consultant. I intend to share some general insights and specific treatment details, gleaned from hundreds of zoo cases. If this is considered of value by zoo veterinarians and their dental consultants, my next intention is to invite contributions from others experienced in this field.

Please note: pictures and series of pictures are chosen because they are the most complete in illustrating procedure steps. We are often at the mercy of someone else taking photos for us during a procedure. Often no one is available to take them, opportunities are missed, or photos do not turn out well. We make an effort to give credit to whoever took the pictures if we have that information.


I would not have been able to serve as the dental consultant at Milwaukee County Zoo and have the opportunity to aid in the health care of so many precious exotic animals without the trust and encouragement of the zoo veterinarians and administration. Dr. Gilbert Boese was the Milwaukee County Zoo's director from 1979 to 1990. In 1981 he hired Dr. Bruce Beehler, the zoo's first full time veterinarian, who developed a comprehensive veterinary medical program. When I offered to provide dental care for the zoo animals, in 1981, Dr. Beehler allowed me to apply what I knew about human dentistry to treat the zoo animals. Together we gathered what little academic information was available. In 1986 we co-chaired the first ever zoo dentistry conference, attracting over 100 zoo veterinarians and dentists from the US and Europe. That meeting was followed by additional gatherings in Philadelphia in 1989, and Calgary in 1991, associated with the AAZV. In 2002 we hosted another zoo dentistry meeting in Milwaukee, again associated with the AAZV.

In 1983 I extracted an abscessed maxillary second molar from Tanga, a very ill silverback lowland gorilla, sectioning it with a belt drive slow speed lab handpiece. Tanga recovered promptly. Soon after that Drs. Boese and Beehler met with me and asked what equipment could be acquired to improve the delivery of comprehensive dental care. Dr. Boese later became the President of the Zoological Society of Milwaukee. The Society, currently led by Dr. Bert Davis, supports the veterinary staff and has generously supported my efforts at the zoo, providing funds for equipment etc.

Mr. Charles "Chuck" Wikenhauser has been the zoo's Director from 1990 to present. He has continued to hire and manage supremely capable and dedicated veterinary and curatorial professionals. The zoo veterinarians that I have worked with, in particular Drs. Bruce Beehler, Andrew Teare, Victoria Clyde and Roberta Wallace, have been inspirational colleagues.

And most importantly, I acknowledge my wife, Betty, who has tolerated me spending hundreds of Thursday and Saturday mornings on my "days off" to treat the zoo patients. Trained as a former surgical technician, she ably assisted me in several early major zoo oral surgical cases.

About John L. Scheels, DDS

For over 30 years, Dr. Scheels has been the Zoo's dentist at the Milwaukee County Zoo. He has performed dental procedures on more than 90 species of animals.

Dr. John Scheels bio pic

Dr. Scheels is a leader in the growing and highly specialized field of exotic animal dentistry. Scheels has a general dental practice in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.

He organized and co-chaired the first International Zoo/Exotic Animal Dentistry Conference and created the veterinary dentistry program for the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Scheels majored in zoology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee before coming to Marquette University School of Dentistry. Over 30 years ago, he read a magazine article about a zoo dentist. Intrigued, he volunteered his services at the Milwaukee zoo, and soon found himself in a cage inspecting an orangutan's broken tooth. "The bulk of my time is extracting problematic teeth, but we run the whole gamut of problems," says Scheels, who consults on about 35 cases a year.

C V: Specific to Veterinary Dentistry
1971: BS, zoology, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
1975: DDS, Marquette University School of Dentistry
1975-present: Private, solo general dental practice, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin,
Member Milwaukee Dental Forum study club, ADA, WDA
1981-present: Dental consultant, Milwaukee County Zoo
1986-1998: Developed/taught veterinary dentistry elective course and CE classes, University of Wisconsin, School of Veterinary Medicine
1986-2000: Adjunct Assistant Professor, Department of Surgical Sciences, University of Wisconsin, School of Veterinary Medicine
1986: Organized and co-chaired first International Zoo/Exotic Animal Dentistry Conference, Milwaukee, WI
1989: Wisconsin Dental Association, annual meeting, Table Clinic Award, titled: "Veterinary Dentistry, Know What You May Be Getting Into" (Also presented, by invitation, at Chicago Midwinter Meeting, 1990)
1989: Co-Chaired Zoo Animal Dentistry Conference, Philadelphia, PA
1991: Co-Chaired Zoo Animal Dentistry Conference, Calgary, Alberta (AAZV)
1999-present: Member of Dental Forum of Milwaukee
The Dental Forum is the oldest continuous running private dental study club in the United States. It was founded in 1921. It is comprised of fifty members, by invitiation. It is primarily a generalist focused group but includes members of many dental specialties and many members are on the faculty of the Marquette University School of Dentistry.
2002: Chaired Zoo Animal Dentistry Conference, and Lab, Milwaukee, WI (AAZV)
2001-2006: Dental Consultant, Brookfield Zoo, Chicago area
2008: Presented Zoo Dentistry Workshop at Annual AAZV Conference, Knoxville,Tennessee
2015-2016: President, the Dental Forum of Milwaukee


Reviewer for Journal of Veterinary Dentistry, 1994-2010
Published articles:
Principles of Dental Extraction, Scheels, JL and Howard, PE, in "Seminars in Veterinary Medicine and Surgery (Small Animal)", Vol 8, no. 3 (August), 1993: pp146-154
"Treatment of Dental Injuries in a Warthog" (Veterinary Dentist at Work) J.Vet. Dent. Vol. 16 no. 2 June 1999
"A Survey of Current Dental Problems and Treatments of Zoo Animals", S.E. Glatt, K.E. Francl, J.L. Scheels International Zoo Yearbook (2008) 42: 1-9
Numerous presentations to professional dental groups and at various veterinary conferences, including AVDS conferences in 1994 and 2004.
Zoo Dentistry Overview to AZAD Conference, Milwaukee, WI, October 2014
Patented the WEDGE veterinary mouth prop, 1993.
Invented the Large Volume Veterinary Endodontic Syringe.


Radiolucent Mouth Prop for Dogs and Cats

NOTICE: Veterinarians have used spring-loaded mouth "gags" in cats and dogs for many years. However, the spring-loaded devices are no longer recommended. A study published in THE VETERINARY JOURNAL (2014) showed that the spring-loaded "gags" generating constant force contributes to bulging of the soft tissues between the mandible and the tympanic bulla in cats. This force leads to the compression of the maxillary arteries as they course through the osseous structures. In cats the maxillary arteries are the main source of blood supply to the retinae and brain.

Reduction of the blood flow can result in temporary or permanent blindness and neurologic abnormalities. Spring-loaded "gags" constant force can also cause jaw muscle strain and injury to the temporomandibular joints.

It is recommended to use "static" mouth props such as the WEDGE. Be sure to not open the jaw to its maximum to avoid muscle strain and temporomandibular joint injury.

Dr. John Scheels - Exotic Animal Dentistry 

The WEDGE® is a one-piece, radiolucent mouth prop. The patented, anatomic design holds the carnivore mouth open during anesthesia by securely engaging the premolars and molars.

Dr. John Scheels - Exotic Animal Dentistry


Dr. John Scheels - Exotic Animal Dentistry 

Developed and patented by Dr. John L. Scheels, dental consultant to the Milwaukee County Zoo, Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine.

"The (Scheels) Veterinary mouth prop's biggest asset is its simplicity - open the mouth and stick it in!...it does not interfere with radiographic detail, can be ultrasounded, and autoclaved...can be used for dental and oral surgery procedures...is positioned within the mouth, unlike the spring loaded (extra-oral) devices which can be in the way of the operator and interfere with positioning the patient..."

~ Paul E. Howard, D.V.M.,

Vermont Veterinary Surgical Center, Burlington, Vermont.

Order The WEDGE® from any of these veterinary equipment suppliers:


Large Volume Veterinary Endodontic Syringe™

Click here for more details
Dr. John Scheels - Exotic Animal Dentistry 
Dr. John Scheels - Exotic Animal Dentistry 

An endodontic syringe developed by Dr. John Scheels specifically for veterinary use in all species for complete and consistent obturation of root canals over 30mm long or with large pulp chambers. It permits the positive deposition of endodontic sealer and filler pastes at the apex of these long teeth. NO SPECIAL NEEDLES are required as it may be used with any standard size hub. Plastic, metal, threaded or non-threaded needle hubs will seal well on the tapered syringe nipple.

Purchase from Shipp's

Dr. John Scheels - Exotic Animal Dentistry
Dr. John Scheels - Exotic Animal Dentistry
Dr. John Scheels - Exotic Animal Dentistry
Dr. John Scheels - Exotic Animal Dentistry
Dr. John Scheels - Exotic Animal Dentistry
Dr. John Scheels - Exotic Animal Dentistry
Dr. John Scheels - Exotic Animal Dentistry
Dr. John Scheels - Exotic Animal Dentistry
Dr. John Scheels - Exotic Animal Dentistry