December 30, 2010, Updated September 13, 2012

A specialized tooth varnish developed by scientists in Israel can help kangaroos bounce back from a common and often-fatal gum disease.


Kangaroos at Jerusalem’s Biblical Zoo are now safe from the often-fatal lumpy jaw disease, after scientists created a new tooth varnish. Photo courtesy of Jerusalem Biblical Zoo.

Israeli researchers have managed to clear up “lumpy jaw disease” in kangaroos by administering a variation of a topical human medication. The common periodontal condition is often fatal for the captive marsupials.

A three-year study was conducted among these mammals at Israel’s Gan Garoo-Australia Park and Tisch Family Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem and reported on recently in the Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine.

Left untreated, lumpy jaw disease leads to periodontal diseases, severe gingivitis and abscesses. Four years ago, Gan Garoo lost about 40 percent of its kangaroos to this ailment, which is thought to be caused by the diet in captivity as well as by environmental stress. Affected animals stop eating and starve to death in a short period of time.

Slow release tooth varnish

Until now, the only way to treat periodontal diseases in kangaroos has been antibiotics fed or injected by force several times a day, followed by solitary confinement to prevent cross-infection of the rest of the herd. This method is not only physically difficult to accomplish, as kangaroos weigh between 154 and 176 pounds, but it also is counterproductive in that it introduces a new source of stress.

“The new treatment is easier to implement compared to the currently available treatment, because it doesn’t require continued force-feeding over time, and it doesn’t have the same side-effects as the current oral/systemic dosage form,” explains Prof. Doron Steinberg of the Hebrew University (HU) Faculty of Dental Medicine. “The delayed release mechanism greatly reduces the rate of suffering of the animal, leads to quick recovery and enables rapid return to the group, a fact which is of crucial importance in wild animal and zoo medicine.”

Developers of the innovative veterinary treatment also included Prof. Michael Friedman of the HU School of Pharmacy and Dr. Eran Lavy of the Koret School of Veterinary Medicine. Testing was carried out in collaboration with veterinarians Meytal Bakal-Weiss and Nili Avni-Magen. After application on the gums, the drug is released slowly from the varnish, which is made up of disinfectants embedded in a polymeric matrix. The disinfectant helps reduce the gum swelling.

Good news for pets

The success of the new treatment is good news for pets, too. Most dogs over the age of four develop dental problems and even severe periodontal infections that can lead to systemic diseases. In a recent study among dozens of dogs, applying a sustained release dental varnish was effective in treating canine dental disorders.

“The new treatment can also be applied to other animals suffering from dental diseases and gingivitis, thereby reducing their suffering and long-term treatments,” says Lavy. The researchers are now examining ways to integrate food supplements into the medicine to make it tastier for dogs.

Veterinarians from zoos in other countries have shown keen interest in the dental varnish, which is patented by Yissum, the Hebrew University’s technology transfer company, and ready for commercialization. Partners are now being sought to develop the treatment for wild animals and pets.

More on Environment

Fighting for Israel's truth

We cover what makes life in Israel so special — it's people. A non-profit organization, ISRAEL21c's team of journalists are committed to telling stories that humanize Israelis and show their positive impact on our world. You can bring these stories to life by making a donation of $6/month. 

Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

Read more: