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Thai teen girls think braces are cute. They're also deadly.
This cutesy marketing strategy is shared by licensed dentists as well. Ads for the Smile Dental Clinic in central Bangkok feature blue- and green-haired Anime schoolgirls smiling and locking hands.
Thailand is hardly the only country where braces have been regarded as both medically and cosmetically beneficial. In a 1989 New York Times profile, China’s first American-educated orthodontist noted that braces had become fashionable for Chinese teens. In many still-developing nations, braces can convey wealth, or at least enough cash to straighten pokey teeth.
But young Thais interviewed about the appeal of braces said nothing about status. Real or otherwise, braces in Thailand suggest teeny cuteness, as do “big eye” contacts, eyelashes sprinkled with glitter and pig-tail hair-extensions. They also offer more facial real estate to color-code with eyes, jewelry and shoes.
“I’ve going to have gaps in my teeth anyway, but now they’re rainbow colored,” said Benjawan Intaput, a 23-year-old English student in Nakhon Pathom. “I’ve got all these different colors. Why not wear them all at once?”
Legit braces in Bangkok cost roughly $1,200, paid in monthly installments over three or four years. The fake sort are often associated with a scrappy motorbike subculture known as “dek wehn wehn.” The word “dek” means kids in Thai and “wehn wehn” is an onomatopoeia of a two-stroke motorbike revving up.
“There are lots of kids with no money who want braces anyway,” Supapich said. “They’re just being cute and having fun.”
But Thailand’s health and safety czars, which have fought the trend since 2004, are now pursuing fake braces outlets with renewed gusto.
The government may ask teachers to request documentation from kids with braces and refer those with fashion braces to Thailand’s health ministry for free removal. Anyone caught practicing unlicensed dentistry faces fines and three years in prison and the import of dental supplies will now be closely supervised by a state-run consumer protection board.