A good set of teeth can set you back several thousand rupees in a licensed dental clinic. But in the aptly named ‘Dental Street’, just adjacent to Hyderabad’s iconic Charminar, lie informal dental shops that do the job for a few hundred rupees.
The vast majority of Indians suffer from gum diseases, with half the population yet to adopt daily use of a toothbrush, according to a survey by the Indian Dental Association. Those who inevitably suffer from various dental problems turn to these street clinics for a cheap fix.
A far cry from the sanitised surroundings of licensed dental clinics, these informal shops keep their wares on public display.
Some of these establishments are fourth-generation family ventures.
According to the current owner of M.K. Dasatagiri, the clinic attracts patients from Maharashtra, Karnataka and other faraway places. Patients come here for quick work. “Fixes that take two to three days in the New City, happen instantly here. If you give your measurements in the morning, you’ll get it by evening. If you want better quality, wait till the next morning”, says Sultan.
Sultan describes himself as a dental hygienist. He isn’t a dentist per se, though the clinic has a dentist. He just isn’t necessarily in the clinic. Sultan handles examinations for patients with small problems, and those with larger problems are put on the phone with the dentist – who may or may not turn up to examine them.
We asked Sultan how he is able to achieve such low price points compared to the ‘New City’ clinics.
New City has lavish clinics with maintenance, who pay high rents. Our rents and maintenance costs are low.
Mohammad Momin Ali runs M.M. Ali’s Dental clinic. His grandfather started the clinic in 1904, and his father took over in 1947. He’s been helping out since 1957. With three kids, one studying for a Bachelors of Dental Surgery (BDS), one in Saudi Arabia and the third helping out in the shop – the fourth generation of dentists seem ready to take on the mantle. We asked him if he wanted his grandkids too to join the family legacy.
“They are small. If they like it, they can do it. In this field, the work comes with Izzat (pride) and income. I’ve trained 40 people in the business already,” he says proudly, adding that they now work in various clinics across the Middle East.
While the practises of street dentists might concern those in formal medical practise, there exists few to no alternatives to them at this price point. Using improvised equipment, there is little evidence of sterilisation.
India has only one dentist per 250,000 people in rural areas. The ratio in cities is vastly better, with one for every 10,000. This brings people from the surrounding areas to the cities, for dental care.
Until dental hygiene practices grow prevalent, street dentists will continue to be the only link to dental hygiene for many. But some dentists can be found chewing gutka – known to be particularly bad for both one’s teeth and health. Mohammad shyly explains his reason, “I’ve had this habit since 1967. I can’t seem to break it.”
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