As cars speed past patients in India’s capital don’t think twice about having their teeth seen to by the city’s popular street dentists. And it’s not only in New Delhi, it happens in cities all over India. Self-proclaimed roadside dentists perform complicated dental procedures on patients with limited funds using almost medieval equipment. There’s no clinic, no costly chairs, no electric drills, there’s no need for an appointment even, patients just pull up a plastic stool and hope the dentist will relieve any pain with a rusty set of pliers.
1 The doctor will see you… anytime: Street dentist Surinder Singh, 67, has been fixing teeth for 40 years in Delhi
Street dentist Surinder Singh, 67, from Ludhiana, in the eastern state of Punjab, is a school dropout but learned the dentist trade from his father. He’s now been in this business for 40 years. He said: ‘A few decades ago I had 15 patients a day but now it’s three or four a week. I make around 2,500 Rs (£25) a month. ‘Now a days only the poorest of the poor come to see me. They cannot afford these expensive clinics but they deserve to be treated too so thank god they have people like me.’ Patients have to pay 50 Rs (50P) for a tooth extraction and 150 Rs (£1.50) for a new tooth.
A new set of dentures will cost 1,500 Rs (£15) and comes with a one-year guarantee
The street dentist said: ‘Only the poorest of the poor come to see me. They cannot afford these expensive clinics but they deserve to be treated too’ A new set of dentures will cost 1,500 Rs (£15) and comes with a one-year guarantee. There’s no consultation fee. But patients take a huge risk. The drills, tweezers and pliers are never sterilized, only washed in disinfectant at the end of the day. And Surinder uses a hand held torch for light if a patient comes after dusk. Any tooth extraction is done without anesthesia; they’re just fed some painkillers after to cope with the pain. Surinder added: ‘We take extreme care in treating patients. We are equally skillful to high-end clinics. I have been doing this for 40 years and none of my patients have ever complained.
New smile: The veteran roadside practitioner says he gets replacement teeth from reputable sources
‘I buy the teeth from reputable companies and so they’re the real thing.’
There is no official ban on roadside dental clinics in India but the Indian Medical Association, an elite body of qualified medical practitioners, have been demanding a law on street practice for many years.
But for customers like Sushant Singh, 48, a labourer, the hospitals and private dental clinics are too costly.
He said: ‘I earn 125 rupees a day and can just about afford to pay 150 Rs for fixing my tooth. The government hospitals do not have dentists and private clinics charge exorbitant fees. If there’s no street dentist where will a poor man like me go?’ he asks.
Accessible healthcare: Street dentists aren’t forbidden, but the Indian Medical Association is trying to change that