Turkmenistan: Dentistry in Crisis Though the President’s a Dentist

Dentistry in Turkmenistan is in a state of collapse. Turkmenbashi on the Caspian coast is no remote village in the north of the country but the center of Turkmenistan’s oil refining industry and an international maritime port. But conditions in the local dental center do not match the city’s status as a holiday destination, a stone’s throw from the Avaza resort’s expensive hotels, yacht clubs, and beaches.

Main entrance to the city dental center in Turkmenbashi

Sources have sent Turkmen.news photographs of the dental center, both inside and outside. It’s clear from the photos that the building has received no attention for decades. The last round of repairs was definitely during the Soviet era.

The peeling paint in the consulting rooms and corridors has long since lost its original color; the lino and floor tiles are unfit for purpose; the doors to the consulting rooms look as though they have seen no soap for years, let alone paint; the furniture in the corridors was clearly bought in the 1980s or 90s. Sources say that patients prefer to stand while waiting, as they are afraid to sit on the chairs in case they collapse.

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Just one of the dentists has decorated their consulting room themselves out of their own pocket. The rest work in dingy premises.

No one – not the city administration, or the local health department, or officials from the Ministry of Health – is concerned that this is a medical establishment where at least the minimum rules of hygiene should be followed. The lack of maintenance has led to insanitary conditions in the building.

The photos of the center’s courtyard are an embarrassment, while the toilets, which both patients and medical staff have to use, are a disgrace. But it’s Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov who should be embarrassed. He was a dentist before his rise to health minister and then president of Turkmenistan, though he has forgotten his primary vocation – to be a healer.

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Back to the dental center. Patients frequently require X-rays, but the center’s old machine is on its last legs. Even after many attempts (and many doses of radiation) the X-rays are still poor quality. Patients have to go elsewhere for an X-ray – to the military hospital on Gogol Street (the machine there isn’t new either) or to the medical centers in the Avaza hotels. The military hospital costs 20 manats, while the hotels cost 100. Most of the patients prefer the military hospital of course; treatment is already expensive enough.

Unfortunately, the medical care provided at the dental center is little better than the surroundings. Supplies are irregular and never enough, so the dentists, especially those with years of experience, buy materials themselves where they can. The cancellation of regular flights because of the pandemic makes it impossible to order supplies from Russia, Ukraine or Turkey, so the dentists have to find other ways to get what they need.

X-ray at the military hospital. For more images check out our Telegram channel

“Another problem is the lack of specialists,” a source in Turkmenbashi says. “You have to make an appointment in advance to see a dentist. What can someone do who is in pain? In theory the duty dentist should see them, but there’s no guarantee that they will. They’ll probably come up with some reason to brush off the suffering patient.”

People with bad toothache have two alternatives, neither free of charge: the military hospital again, or the hotels in the Avaza resort. Most people choose the former, as few can afford the fees charged by the Avaza dentists, though Avaza is closed anyway at the moment because of the pandemic.

Turkmen.news has already covered the topic of dental care in Turkmenistan. The article Turkmen Medicine’s Toothache, dated September 17, 2018, covered the training of specialists in the local medical school, diagnosis, preventive care, and much else besides. This was two years ago, but judging from sources’ reports the situation has only got worse.

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In 2004 the story of how the then president of Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov, banned gold teeth did the rounds of the world’s media. The press quoted the president’s remarks to a student at one of the capital’s universities. The young woman warmly welcomed the eminent guest from the stage, her gold teeth sparkling. “Don’t take offense,” Niyazov said to her. “Your gold teeth look marvelous, but white ones would be even better. The health minister is here. He’s a dentist himself and will give you white teeth.”

He was talking about Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov who in less than three years would be the second president of Turkmenistan. What has been done during his presidency? In 2013, a Dental Center in Ashgabat was opened. Five years earlier an International Center to Treat Head and Neck Disorders with a jaw and facial surgery department was built, but it does not provide ordinary dental care or implants. And that’s it! Nothing at all has changed in the provinces as far as dental care is concerned. The infrastructure continues to deteriorate, while the older generations of doctors and dentists are dying out.