Believe It or Not: Street Dentistry
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Believe It or Not: Street Dentistry

December 2, 2018

By Ramesh Kebbehundi

Street services are hardly an anomaly in Mysuru like any other cities and villages in India. Around the corner, you can find a man sitting on the street side repairing bicycle tires with his tool kit in his lap. Move a little further, you will find a puncture shop guy ready with a smile to close the nagging hole which has taken off the wind from your vehicle tyre and you can find sidewalk chefs preside over vats of hot oil to fry sweet and savoury pastries. You can also find self-proclaimed roadside dentists performing 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 and consultation fees even. Patients just pull up a plastic stool and hope the dentist will relieve any pain with a set of steel pliers.

Street dentist Babu Rao, whose ancestors are from Rajasthan, learnt the dentist trade from his family. He’s now been in this business since many years. Babu Rao is currently settled at Mahadeshwara Layout near Kumbarakoppal.

Every two to three days Babu Rao changes his location to find new customers and provide his services to patients in need. When Star of Mysore met him near Private Bus Stand on Sayyaji Rao Road, Babu Rao introduced himself as poor man’s dentist.

“I work locally for poor people. I stand on the sidewalks along with my second-hand Maruthi Omni and carry equipment for my service. I park my vehicle in public places at corner side of the bus stand and footpath to pluck my fruits of labour,” he says.

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Babu Rao, who is into this profession from the past 35 years, has so far travelled many parts of Karnataka finding customers including neighbouring Kodagu, Chamarajanagar, Kollegal, Mandya and Tumakuru.

In his younger days he used to walk and travel in buses carrying all dentures, pliers and other accessories in a suitcase. Now 60-year-old Babu Rao has been earning his bread and butter and maintains a vehicle for his trade.  He said he often visits jathras (fairs) where he finds many customers.

There are over 200 street dentists in Bengaluru. The only regret Babu Rao has is that among his five children nobody is interested to continue in this profession that has passed on from generations to generations. He said his nephew is continuing the ancestral business even today at Bengaluru.

As most of the government hospitals do not have dentists and private clinics are charging exorbitant prices, many poor patients visit him for tooth extraction, filling and other services, claims Babu Rao.

He said that he is a school dropout but learnt the dentist trade from his father.  “I used to treat 20 to 25 patients a day a few decades ago but now I find only five or six patients in a week. I make around Rs. 2,500 a week. Now I can see only the poorest of the poor opt for my treatment as they cannot afford treatment at private hospitals,” he says.

A new set of dentures will cost between Rs. 200 and Rs. 500 depending upon the quality and he charges Rs. 100 for tooth extraction. Dentures sets of various sizes and quality are purchased from Bengaluru Medical College and other places.

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He said the drills, tweezers and pliers are sterilised and he washes his hands with disinfectants.

Tooth extraction is done after giving some painkillers but does not administer any anaesthesia. He says that he takes extra care of patients. “I am skilled and professional. I have not received any complaints so far,” he says with a smile.

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