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By Nik Nur Najla Nik Zaid
KUALA LUMPUR, July 5 (Bernama) -- Nur Amira Afiqah thought she was getting dental braces installed at an authorised clinic.
“Everything looked right. There were doctors, nurses and patients – it seemed like a proper dental clinic,” the 24-year-old told Bernama.
She had a slight issue of crowded teeth and was keen to get braces to correct the problem.
However, she was still studying in a college in Pahang at the time and the cost of installing dental braces were typically around RM6,000 – very much out of her budget.
Then she heard from college friends of a clinic in Kuantan that offered the installation of dental braces for as low as RM500. She promptly called for an appointment.
In hindsight, the absurdly low fees should have been a tipoff.
“I didn’t miss any of the appointments in the first three months. I thought the treatments were working as I could feel my teeth being “corrected”.
“But then I read a thread on Twitter that that dental clinic was operating illegally. I was shocked,” she said of the ordeal that started in 2017.
Nur Amira immediately booked an appointment at another dental clinic to check the state of her teeth and the dentist confirmed the worst – the treatment had caused a host of dental problems.
“Some brackets were installed incorrectly – the left was at the right, the right at the left. Some teeth had become completely misaligned, resulting in an open bite,” she said.
She tried seeking corrective treatment at several dental clinics but was turned down by each one. For five months, she went from clinic to clinic, seeking a dentist who would take on her case before finally finding one who would.
“I was beating myself up at the time for being foolish enough to not acknowledge the scam. I knew that RM500 was a ludicrous price to pay for the procedure, but I didn’t want to believe it because it happened at a proper clinic. From what we’ve heard, quacks typically operate at hotel rooms or make house calls,” she said.
MORE OF A TREND THAN TREATMENT
A specialist orthodontist and lecturer at Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM), Dr Nik Mukhriz Nik Mustapha told Bernama that the fake braces business was rife in 2018, but at the time many Malaysians had yet to be aware of it.
“It was only when Nara was served with a prison sentence and tens of thousands of ringgit in fines that people became more wary of fake braces.
“But even then, fake braces were still in demand because they were so cheap,” he said.
Nur Farahanis Ezzaty Adli, better known as Nara, was arrested in 2017 for providing unlicensed dental services via an unauthorised private clinic based at the Bakti Homestay in Melaka. Then 20, she had provided the service of installing fake braces after learning only from YouTube tutorials.
Dr Nik Mukhriz said youths tended to fall prey to the scam because of peer pressure.
“It has become something of a fashion trend to wear braces. Some even see it as a status symbol as only the wealthy can afford it.
“If you go to authorised dental clinics, the installation of braces is usually between RM6,000 and RM7,000. As such, people who wear braces typically come from a well-to-do background,” he explained.
RIDICULOUSLY LOW PRICES
Bernama recently browsed through 10 Instagram accounts that offered the installation of dental braces on the cheap and found them to charge absurdly low prices ranging from RM90 to RM160.
Upon further inquiry, it was discovered that these services will take places in homes, hotels or beauty salons.
“It is actually quite rare for these kinds of unauthorised services to be carried out in a real clinic because if the clinic is unregistered, it would immediately be flagged. So those who claim to have gotten fake braces installed at a clinic, it is likely that those clinics are unauthorised,” said Dr Mukhriz.
The public can check if a dentist is licensed at the Dental Practitioners Information Management System (DPIMS) web page, he said.
“Users can just key in the dentist’s name and see whether or not they are registered. The DPIMS database will reveal where a dentist got their qualifications from,” he said.
THE DANGERS OF FAKE BRACES
The most concerning damage caused by the installation of fake braces is severe infection resulting from the usage of unsanitary equipment.
“Unlicensed practices tend to not sterilise the braces before installing because the equipment used to sterilise dental tools are very expensive. These bogus dentists then use the unsterilised tools on patients, one after the other.
“Imagine inserting the same unsterilised tools into every patient’s mouth, exposing all of them to a host of disease and infections,” he said.
Aside from that, the usage of fake braces are not subjected to regular monitoring, unlike
if they were installed at a licensed dental clinic.
“Authorised dental clinics would advise braces-wearing patients on how to clean their teeth and would schedule regular appointments to check on their patients’ dental condition.
“On the other hand, wearers of fake braces are not regularly monitored so there would be cases where food particles get caught in their braces and they’re not able to dislodge it for months, resulting in cavity and gum problems,” he explained.
Another concern is toxic leaching from fake braces as their production is unregulated, unlike the braces at authorised clinics which come from suppliers registered under the Medical Device Act 2012.
IT COMES AT A GREATER COST
As for Nur Amira, it took her two years of wearing braces fitted by an authorised clinic to finally get her teeth corrected.
She initially had to pay RM1,000 to have the fake braces removed and found herself paying nearly RM8,000 in total to correct the damage caused by wearing fake braces.
“I could’ve put that RM1,000 towards the installation of proper braces at an authorised clinic. Still, I consider myself luckier than most as I had only been wearing the fake braces for less than a year before I discovered the truth.
“I can’t imagine the kind of damage my teeth would have been subjected to if I had found out too late – I’ve read about people having to fork out over RM10,000 to correct dental damage from fake braces,” she said.
She shared about her ordeal via a thread on Twitter but the clinic caught wind of it and threatened to sue if she did not take her post down immediately.
Intimidated, she took her thread down. She was also hesitant to lodge a police report or disclose the name of the clinic to Bernama.
“My advice to anyone tempted to get fake braces, don’t do it. It’s not worth the pain, the cost and the dental problems to come,” she said.
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