Indonesia's informal dentists bite back on ban

Indonesia's informal dentists bite back on ban
WITHIN REACH: Informal dentist shops, like this in Jakarta, are the only option for many poor Indonesians.

For more than 30 years, Indonesian Edi Herman has been fixing the teeth of Jakartans in the rusty chair of his tiny shop.

He is one of thousands of low-cost, unlicensed dentists, whose small stores with their lurid signs can be found nestled in grimy alleys and wedged between redtiled houses across the capital.

But after years of horror stories about people suffering terrible damage at the hands of unscrupulous practitioners with neither clean tools nor training, the government moved to ban them from all dental work in 2011.

But the unlicensed dentists are fighting back. They have managed to get the ban overturned after challenging it in the constitutional court - and are now demanding the right to practise, AFP reported.

"We demand to be granted a licence so we can operate legally. We will never give up our fight," said chairman of the Informal Dentists' Association, Dwi Waris Supriyono.

For Mr Herman, 56, a ban would have destroyed his livelihood and stopped him from practising a trade passed down to him and his brothers by their father.

"The government wants to put us out of business," said Mr Herman, dressed in a faded T-shirt and sarong. "But I've been doing this since 1980, and I don't want to lose my job."

The informal dentists argue that they are the only realistic option for many in a country where millions live in abject poverty.

Mr Herman charges just 50,000 rupiah (around S$5) for a simple scaling job, and about 1.5 million rupiah to fit a brace - four to five times lower than prices at licensed dentists.

Easier to Find

It is also much easier to find an informal dentist. The health ministry estimates there are 75,000 of them in Indonesia, compared with 35,000 licensed practitioners.

The government insists that reports of dental disaster at the hands of unlicensed practitioners vindicate its drive to impose a ban.

One such case is that of cleaner Fitri Hayati, whose attempts to get her teeth straightened at two illegal dentists in Jakarta were far from successful.

The 24-year-old was fitted with braces but one tooth has been pushed down, so it now looks longer than the others, and she said she suffers from "unbearable pain".

Senior health ministry official Untung Suseno Sutarjo said: "These practitioners have no qualifications. They use tools which have not been cleaned or sterilised properly."

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