Dr. Brian Dolberg held the instrument, carefully nearing it to his patient, who squirmed with fear. Dolberg tried to steady the patient as he turned on the drill, which whined with a spine-tingling hum.
The procedure he was about to perform was anything but common. But then again, so was the patient.
Zorro, a puffer fish the size of a small toy football, visits Dolberg once a year when his teeth have grown to about two centimeters long.
Dolberg, a dentist who practices almost exclusively on humans, performs the procedure in exchange for free food at Pischke’s Paradise, a restaurant in downtown Scottsdale owned by Chris Pischke, Zorro’s owner.
In the wild, puffer fish constantly chew on coral, which naturally keeps their teeth at a manageable length.
"Come on, Zorro," Dolberg said during the procedure Jan. 17. "Work with me."
Zorro wriggled, forcing Pischke to return him to a bucket of water. Zorro could only stay out of the water a couple of minutes at a time, prolonging the drilling to a half hour.
Each time he returned to face Dolberg, Zorro relaxed more, although his shortened teeth allowed him to attempt to bite the doctor.
"Oh, he’s mad," Dolberg said as the fish’s teeth made menacing chomping noises. He said Zorro’s annual visit is the highlight of the year at his Scottsdale office.
"Zorro holds a special place in my heart," said Dolberg, who was wearing a "Finding Nemo" T-shirt. "It’s too much fun. We love doing it."
Marnie Brookins, Dolberg’s office manager, said Zorro is her favorite patient. "He sure talks back a lot less," she said.
Dolberg said, "No anesthetic, no complaints." As Dolberg finished the procedure, he patted Zorro. "OK," he said. "Rinse and spit."