- Deaths of two Thai teenagers blamed on fake orthodontic gear
- Some adolescents are fitting colourful and patterned braces themselves
- Thai authorities have tightened laws around fitting them, and made selling them punishable by a year in jail
Most children hate having to wear braces and other orthodontic paraphernalia, striking off on a calendar the days until the dentist removes them.
But not in some Southeast Asian countries, where teenagers are reportedly wearing fake train tracks glued to their teeth as a symbol of status, wealth and style – despite the fashion fad being blamed for the deaths of at least two youngsters.
Since genuine braces cost around £750, wearing them is a sign of financial prosperity. But adolescents in Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia have been buying the faux oral accessories – which do not need to be fitted by a dentist – in a multitude of colours and designs, including Hello Kitty and Mickey Mouse, for as little as £62.
And some teenagers are even fitting them on their own, leading to serious health concerns that the tiny components – some of which are made of lead – could become loose and choke the wearer, or even cause poisoning. The aesthetic braces have been tied to the deaths of two young people in Thailand, causing the government to tighten up restrictions around selling them.
One 17-year-old girl in Thailand’s northeast city of Khon Kaen was left with an infected thyroid after a bad fitting, which led to fatal heart failure.
And police in Chon Buri province connected an illegal braces market stall to the death of a 14-year-old girl.
But although the measures were introduced to curb the trend, the fake braces market shows no sign of slowing down. Health experts have now warned young people against wearing fake fashion braces, and experts believe they are very dangerous and should be banned.
The fashion braces, known as ‘behel’ in Indonesia, can be purchased online or from open-air street markets and fitted at beauty salons.
Many local Asian models, actresses and musicians – including popular Indonesian singer Andika Kangen – sport colourful braces, leading young people to try and emulate them.
And photos of Western stars during their train-track-wearing days – including Gwen Stefani – appear on blogs dedicated to fashion braces.
Anyone found selling them could face a six month jail sentence and a fine of up to £815; anyone found importing the braces could face up to 12 months in jail.
Rasamee Vistaveth, secretary-general of Thailand’s Consumer Protection Board, told CBS news network: ‘Some people put the fashion (braces) on by themselves, which is dangerous because they could come loose and slip into the throat.
‘The fake braces, which are glued onto the teeth, can also cause sores on the gums and inside the mouth and some of the wires have been found to contain lead.’