Seals, sea lions brush teeth, too

October 13, 2010 (CHICAGO) In honor of National Dental Hygiene Month, ABC7's Frank Mathie took a trip to the dentist with some long-toothed friends at Brookfield Zoo.

"As we all know good oral hygiene is a good part of staying healthy. So we do that with our seals and sea lions and we actually brush their teeth three times a week," said Rita Stacey, curator of marine mammals.

The animals have been trained to get their teeth brushed as part of a feeding session. So they actually like it.

"I think they enjoy getting their teeth brushed because of the interaction they get with their trainer," said Stacey.

Sea lions and seals, by the way, are very much like people-- in the mouth. Human beings have about 34 adult teeth and so do these distant cousin mammals. But diet-wise there's a difference—humans don't eat 15 to 20 pounds of fish a day.

"Her breath right now is actually relatively minty," said Beth Miller, seal and sea lion keeper. "Not fishy. Obviously we've been feeding her fish ... so it is a little bit fishy."

Sea lions and seals sort of look the same to some of us, but Stacey said it's actually easy to tell them apart.

"The easiest way is to look at their heads and look at their ears. Sea lions have ear flaps. They actually have appendages for ear flaps -- and then for harbor seals no ear flaps. Just small holes for ears," Rita Stacey said.

Another visit to the fish bucket and another visit to the dentist. And it's all sea lion-ed or seal-ed with a little bit fishy kiss.

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