The curious case of the missing Chinese dentists

Published January 3, 2016
The picture of a set of pearl-white teeth and healthy pink gums is the trademark of Chinese dentists here.
The picture of a set of pearl-white teeth and healthy pink gums is the trademark of Chinese dentists here.

KARACHI: They sat in the waiting area, one hand holding their jaw. Well, it is a dental clinic, so no surprises there. Inside there are a row of dental chairs placed side by side just like the chairs of a hairdressing salon.

We are at one of the Chinese dental clinics or surgeries opened in a regular shop in Saddar. There are around 20 to 50 such clinics in the vicinity. The picture of a set of pearl-white teeth and healthy pink gums is like a trademark of Chinese dentists, beckoning all with tooth issues. And the way we chew on paan or gutka, and our love for sweetmeats weighing more than toothpaste and toothbrushes, there is no shortage of oral ailments. All, of course, can’t pay the astronomical fees of the more well known dentists in the city. So Chinese dentists is the solution. Even before we got China ka maal, such as the electronics, clothes, footwear, etc, from well, China, we had the Chinese dentist helping our people.

Anything labelled as ‘Made-in-China’ has to be good.
Anything labelled as ‘Made-in-China’ has to be good.

“Well, compared to the heavy fees charged by other dentists, Chinese dentists are far more reasonable,” said Dr Najamud Din Shaikh, a Pakistani dentist, whose name also happens to be painted on the window of Dr Richard Hu’s clinic, making him his associate dentist. “Where other dentists working out of posh clinics in Clifton or Defence charge between Rs5,000 and Rs7,000 for a simple tooth extraction, a Chinese dentist will not charge you more than Rs1,000 for the same procedure. That’s the major difference. Besides, they are as professional and knowledgeable as any other dentist.”

Dr Shaikh is answering the questions because Dr Richard is out of town. But one could have sworn to have seen a Chinese doctor inside. “No, no, that’s not Dr Richard. That’s someone else. He is not even a dentist, just one of our hygienists,” we are told.

With many suffering from oral ailments, dentistry can be a lucrative business.
With many suffering from oral ailments, dentistry can be a lucrative business.

Okay but where are the others? Besides the Hu clinic and the Karim Dental Clinic where one actually found Chinese professionals, the other Chinese dentists are either absent or there are Pakistani dentists offering their services at their clinics instead of them. “That’s because this row of clinics around the corner belongs to cousins, who are all vacationing in Canada these days for Christmas and New Year. They are expected back after the Chinese New Year,” says the man on the desk at one among a row of clinics where Chinese dentists are missing. And why are they open then? “Well, the Pakistani dentists will be coming in soon.”

Meanwhile, the two Chinese dentists at the Karim Dental Clinic, don’t want to speak. The only thing they say is that they are Pakistani and Muslim, something not inquired of them. Anything else, they just point to across the road, to the Hu clinic because they say that Dr Richard is the president of their dentists’ community. But Dr Richard is also not available.

The hygienic conditions at some dental surgeries in Saddar leave a lot to be desired. / Inside you can have your teeth looked at, outside on the footpath you can have your earwax removed also. / Photos by Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
The hygienic conditions at some dental surgeries in Saddar leave a lot to be desired. / Inside you can have your teeth looked at, outside on the footpath you can have your earwax removed also. / Photos by Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

Neither can the Phens, the Shins, Thongs or Pengs, whose names are painted on the windows and boards outside, be located. “Well, they have dual nationalities so they spend a lot of time in Canada,” comes other explanation from another clinic without a Chinese dentist.

The purpose of the visit to the place is to meet some Chinese dentists and learn about their interesting history with stories about their early beginnings in Karachi. But conclusions that can be drawn after a visit to this area of Karachi, famous for Chinese dentists for over 50 years now, are that either fearing some kind of an expose write-up, the Chinese dentists don’t want to talk to anyone from the media or there are only one or two actual Chinese dentists left practising here now. The clinics mostly look like businesses being run by certain quacks who know nothing about hygiene and may not even have a degree in dental surgery.

Published in Dawn, January 3rd, 2016

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