Unlicensed dentists in Indonesia battle crackdown

Indonesia is home to thousands of inexpensive, unlicensed dentists, many of whom practiced while the government turned a blind eye until a 2011 ban was implemented.

Now, those dentists have successfully worked to repeal the ban in the nation's constitutional court and are lobbying to have their right to practice recognized and licensed, according to an article in the Times of Oman. These dentists even have their own professional group, the Informal Dentists' Association.

The 2011 ban came about after complaints of unsanitary or unscrupulous practices became too numerous for government to ignore. However, the unlicensed dentists claim that the poor in Indonesia have no other choice but to seek care from them. Licensed dentists are simply too expensive. Meanwhile, unlicensed dentists far outnumber them: There are roughly 75,000 unlicensed dentists compared with 35,000 licensed dentists, according to health ministry estimates cited in the article.

Their fees are about four or five times less than those charged by licensed dentists. At the practice of one dentist interviewed for the article, a "simple scaling job" costs 50,000 rupiah ($4.50) while it costs 1.5 million rupiah ($140) to "fit a brace."

Informal dentists in the country called "Tukang Gigi" or "tooth workers," often employ skills passed down generationally. They trace the skill set back to Chinese dentists who taught them in the 1800s. Indonesia's first formal dental school was not opened until 1928.

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