There is a rather different version of teeth grills up east. Call it a form of brand hijacking; youths from Southeast Asia have given braces an unlikely use comparable to teeth bling. No longer are the braces just for treating teeth gaps or realigning crooked chompers.
Status symbols give us a peek in the current cultural values within that society; in most developing commercial countries, status symbols come in the form of purchased goods. Possession of expensive items elevates ones rank and earns him or her some recognition from society. In the eyes of society, it reinforces a person’s membership in a particular socio-economic stratum, or associates them to the group to which they aspire to belong.
This being the case, in some developing countries in Asia – particularly Indonesia, Thailand and China – there has been a growing trend in the use of braces among the youth, which we well know is a treatment that remains to be expensive everywhere across the globe. This too is why people look to other less expensive alternatives especially when problems are as minor as teeth gaps.
Sporting wired smiles puts these kids on top of the pecking order, and at a time in their lives when a want to assert individuality is perhaps strongest, teens (who are finding it to be a boost in physical appeal) are the main market for this trend. However, the consequences arising from it have led to a growing concern among dental professionals, as many of these teens have braces applied even on a perfect set of teeth.
With dentists refusing to place braces where there is no need of one, teens (and now a number of adults) run to street dentists or dental technicians with no expertise on diagnosing dental problems. This has also led to the proliferation of the black market for cheaper DIY braces. The Thai government has attempted to solve this via an imposed ban on the sale of these items, but this has only pushed sellers to venture online, enabling them to expand their market. In Indonesia however, it remains a legal commodity.
The cheap braces, which come in many fancy colors and designs, are made of dubious materials — and possibly contaminated — that may cause rather serious injury and eventually, death. Two teens in Thailand were reported to have died following the use of braces sold in open-air stalls; one of them suffered a thyroid infection, and the bacteria that traveled through the bloodstream eventually caused heart failure.
In an otherwise healthy set of gnashers, braces can unfavorably alter the position of teeth, mouth and jaw and can possibly cause temporomandibular joint disorder – pain associate with the joint connecting the jaw to the skull that comes with a considerable number of symptoms and possible complications.
Social stratification occurs naturally among people, but when symbols of affluence do more harm than good, it is perhaps time to rethink one’s choices before jumping on the bandwagon.