The Development of an Oral Health Charting System for Koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus)
Lyndall M. Pettett1, BSc; Allan J. Mckinnon2, BVSc, MSc; Gary J. Wilson1, BVSc, MVSc, MACVSc; Frank N. Carrick3, BSc, PhD; Lindsay I. Sly4, BSc, PhD; Phillip S. Bird1, BSc, MSc, PhD
1The University of Queensland, School of Veterinary Science, Gatton, Queensland, Australia, 4343
2The Moggill Koala Hospital, Koala Operations Unit, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, 55 Priors Pocket Rd., Moggill, Queensland, Australia, 4070
3Centre for the Mined Land Rehabilitation, The University of Queensland, Queensland, Australia, 4072
4The School of Molecular and Microbial Sciences, The University of Queensland, Queensland, Australia 4072
The koala is one of Australia's most highly specialized folivores with a diet exclusively of eucalyptus leaves to provide all nutritive needs and therefore requires to be free of oral disease as they are dependent on good dentition for optimal health and quality of life. We developed an oral examination methodology based on protocols for companion animals and human dentistry to chart the oral health of koalas. Thirty free-ranging koalas from South-East Queensland, Australia were examined for general body and oral health. Inspection of the oral cavity was conducted for the presence or absence of the indicators of oral disease such as caries or periodontal disease. Univariate and multivariate analyses were performed on the examination data and a prototype oral health chart developed. The prototype was then trialled and the methodology validated by the Kappa statistic using ten additional koalas examined by four multidisciplinary personnel involved in koala care. Trauma associated fractures, tooth displacement, abnormal occlusion and tooth wear, compacted vegetation, extrinsic stain deposits, periodontal bone loss, gingivitis, tooth mobility, and calculus were present in the oral cavities of the examined koalas. A system of scoring between 0 and 3 was constructed in accordance with the current koala general health charting formats. Validation of the charting method using Kappa coefficients of agreement statistics indicated that there was a good agreement among observers on recorded results except for inflammation and calculus scoring. Modifications were made and visual aids and index scales produced to further assist observers. Oral health surveillance has been proven in other species to be significant in diagnosing physiological disturbances derived from environmental, genetic, and developmental causes. Veterinarians, dental researchers, and koala husbandry personnel will benefit in using this charting method and reporting the oral health of koala populations in their future findings. This unique form of oral health monitoring would be adaptable to other mammals.