Fake dentists are making a comeback - at the unlikeliest of places

PETALING JAYA: Nearly four years after a red flag was first raised, fake dentists are back in force and giving authorities the slip by going online and having “pop-up stores” in the unlikeliest of places, while being helped by local celebrity “endorsements”.

The Star examined 117 profiles on Instagram and Facebook promoting uncertified dental services online, 42% of which provided mobile home-to-home services or set up temporary "clinics" at hotel rooms, making it tricky for authorities to trace and put a stop to their operations.

A total of 31.6% out of the 117 profiles offer services at their own homes, while 10.3% are offered at beauty salons and 16.2% did not specify their locations.

Most of the services being offered are the installation of braces and veneer treatments – where a thin layer of restorative material is bonded onto the front side of a tooth – with a few offering filling and scaling treatments.

The starting prices range from as low as RM10 to a whopping RM2,200, depending on the type of treatment offered.

One of the popular profiles with a following of over 95,000 social media followers and being heavily promoted by celebrities, when contacted said, they are operating at a guarded premises in a Kuala Lumpur-based luxury office building.

This prevents "unwanted visits" from the authorities.

Some of the dental quacks go to the extent of offering "dental training" to interested parties.

The issue first came to light in 2017, when a 20-year-old lodged a police report against two customers who had not paid her for the dental services she apparently provided.

Her action backfired after she was fined RM70,000 and jailed for a month for setting up a dental clinic without the approval of the Health Ministry.

Despite her case and the issue of fake dental services receiving wide publicity at the time, there are still many people offering and promoting unauthorised dental services online.

Some are upfront in admitting they are not dental clinics and only offer “home services”.

Their low prices, coupled with "endorsements" by local celebrities, have lured many to try out their services despite the danger of something going wrong.

These fake dental services have to be cut off and the people have to play a role by not using their services, said dental experts.

Dental practitioner Dr Muhammad Safwan Majid said with low awareness about the illegality of these services among the community, the public, especially young individuals, are becoming easy targets.

"These individuals may not even have any dental issues, but install braces as it has become a symbol of wealth and social status," he said.

Principal dentist at Everglow Dental Clinic Dr Yap Jun Meng warned the public of the health risk from undergoing dental treatments by unqualified practitioners. Principal dentist at Everglow Dental Clinic Dr Yap Jun Meng warned the public of the health risk from undergoing dental treatments by unqualified practitioners.

Principal dentist at Everglow Dental Clinic Dr Yap Jun Meng confirmed that fake dentists often operate at hotel rooms, homes or other premises without dental chairs or proper equipment.

He warned that with incorrect dental installation and sterilisation, patients may experience swollen gums, worsening oral hygiene, wobbly or loosening teeth, deterioration of teeth structure and infection from contagious diseases.

Dr Safwan said dental clinics are constantly monitored and under strict regulation by the authorities to ensure that their premises and services follow proper standard operating procedures.

"Each equipment that we use inside the patient's mouth are sterilized by an autoclave, which has a certificate from JKKP.

"We cannot import the item from China, and it is quite impossible for unlicensed dental practitioners to use this item due to its high price of about RM10,000 to RM20,000," he said.

The dentist cautioned that dental equipment which do not go through proper cleaning and sterilization processes and are used on patients can cause the spread of contagious diseases and viruses such as Covid-19 or sexual transmitted diseases.

University Malaya's research "Fake Braces by Quacks in Malaysia: An Expert Opinion" reported that dental quacks can easily obtain dental materials at low prices through online purchases and there have been "limited action by authorities to hold manufacturers responsible for selling the products to non-authorised vendors".

"It is believed that their source of training is mainly from the internet such as YouTube videos, social media and DIY (Do it yourself) tutorials.

"Fake braces fitted by unqualified individuals may lead to many complications and have no clinical benefits to the patient," it noted.

Dr Safwan said he hoped for greater enforcement to curb the growth of fake dental services in the country.

He suggested that the Health Ministry can also engage with social media influencers to create more awareness to the younger community about the issue.

Fake dental services violates the Dental Act 1971 (Act 51), Dental Act 2018 (Act 804) and the Private Healthcare Facilities and Services Act (PHFSA) (Section 27).

Those who provide these services can be slapped with a fine up to RM300,000 or a maximum jail sentence of six years, or both, if found guilty.

Dental procedures can only be done by certified dentists, nurses and dental therapists, who are governed and regulated by the Malaysian Dental Council.

Dental clinics are also required to visibly display their certificate of operation from the Health Ministry at their clinics and are subject to regular inspections and regulation by the authorities.

The public can lodge an official complaint or report to the Health Ministry's oral health division at ohd@moh.gov.my and view the list of certified dental practitioners at dpims.moh.gov.my.

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