Justin the chimpanzee once made me walk into a tree. Let me back up. Justin didn’t physically make me walk into a tree. It happened because I couldn’t stop staring at him. I was transfixed.Yes, Justin is adorable, in the way that all chimpanzees (and primates, for that matter) are adorable, but that isn’t why I was staring. It’s because of what Justin was doing; he was brushing his teeth...carefully...with a toothbrush.
It may surprise you to learn that dental hygiene is an important part of care-taking at Primarily Primates. Justin didn’t ask for a toothbrush and start taking meticulous care of his pearly whites, however he was taught to by the staff and he really took to it.Primates are subject to the same dental problems such as gingivitis and plaque buildup. Thus, dental care is addressed in a variety of ways at the sanctuary— starting with their diet.We try to help them with day to day maintenance by providing them with fibrous fruits and vegetables that help remove debris from their mouths and teeth (and they help prevent plaque build-up, too). For larger primates like chimpanzees, yes, they are provided with toothbrushes, and taught to use them. Brooke, the executive director, reports that not all chimpanzees take to using a toothbrush, like Justin, so they’re given an antibacterial spray—two squirts—that helps prevent plaque build-up; since it’s cherry flavored, nearly all of our primates like it.When any primates in our care have to have a full health exam, we take the opportunity to give a full dental health exam, too—providing a full mouth cleaning and any kind of needed work under sedation. Smile Kings Dentistry in San Antonio donates pre-pasted toothbrushes to PrimarilyPrimates, the same ones with which our resident dental hygiene poster child—Justin—is obsessed. Moral of the story: Brush your teeth; you only get one set.Oh, and always watch where you are going.