On fake dentists and saving the right people

OCTOBER 11 — It’s a little sad that a fake dentist is getting a lot of publicity. I understand the outrage over NGOs rescuing her silly behind from prison, but she isn’t an isolated case.

A quick Google shows that quite a few Malaysians have opened their own little outfits, offering dentistry services at cut-throat prices.

In Indonesia, tukang gigi or unlicensed, self-taught dental care practitioners are common despite being illegal. But poor folks with little money or unable to make trips to faraway dental clinics resort to these untrained practitioners as they feel they have no choice.

Braces, in particular, are a popular service from these untrained fake dentists because they are very expensive to have done, especially at private practices. 

Prices start from RM5,000, usually with a deposit of a few thousand ringgit and then the balance paid monthly.

Peering on Facebook, I found one girl who’d actually paid RM580 for her braces from a fake dentist but then got scared about hearing the horror stories, ending up in her going to a real dentist to have them removed.

The dentist told her that her RM580 braces were made with RM10 cheap wire. He advised her to make a police report but she was reluctant.

“Maybe ada kot braces yang murah tapi memang boleh betol kan gigi.” (Perhaps there are cheap braces that really can fix teeth.) Her thinking is worrying and demonstrates just why so many people are duped into paying for cheap dentistry.

Thing is, for cheaper braces, it is possible to go to public hospitals or public clinics but you’ll be on waiting lists that could take years. 

USM once offered RM500 braces but has now upped its prices to standard private practice charges.

Dental services are expensive and it’s not surprising that many private practitioners charge high rates, as becoming a dentist is nearly as pricey as becoming a GP.

I think it’s important people learn just why dentists need to be certified. The perception that dentistry skills can just be learned online is dangerous and discounts the years of experience needed, as well as other skills not so easily shown on YouTube.

For a start, there needs to be a way to make basic dental procedures accessible to more people. As for braces, perhaps better education on just why they cost so much would help—something that perhaps the relevant bodies could do.

Fitting braces isn’t just a matter of affixing wire on teeth but it requires an understanding of how teeth work, of safe dental materials and practices and there’s also the maintenance and aftercare to consider.

Quick fixes for beauty are becoming too common now in Malaysia—Instagram has become a haven for dangerous products. Slimming, whitening, detoxifying miracle pills sold online with no safety certification and relying instead on testimonials.

What can we do then to stave off all these harmful products and services? Awareness is one thing, but strict enforcement is also necessary. Supplements and beauty products need more regulation, not less. 

Malaysians also need to learn to be less forgiving of unlicensed health practitioners and dodgy health products. But alas, it might take lots more broken teeth and failed organs for more Malaysians to realise that maybe, just maybe, real doctors have it right after all.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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