Gold loses its shine among young Tajiks

There are many mysteries in Tajikistan, though perhaps none greater than the national obsession with gold teeth. In Dushanbe, the capital of this desperately impoverished nation, they still glint at you from almost every mouth. In some instances, every single tooth has been replaced.

Gold instead of ivory has been the quintessential status symbol in this region for centuries: mined in the Pamir mountains, it has always been in plentiful supply; and what better place to keep your valuables than literally under your eyes?

But despite what you see there is evidence that this ancient tradition is dying. Dental treatment in these post-Soviet times is no longer free: a gold tooth costs about $30 (pounds 18), and a further $15 to install. Last year the average monthly salary here was just $8.60, easily the lowest in the former Soviet Union, making gold a luxury that few Tajiks can now afford.

Professor Omar Tairairov, general director of the Tajik Scientific Industrial Association, Stomatology - the country's chief dentist, in other words - said cost is only one reason for the change. "Their value as a status symbol has declined, especially among the young," he said.

He blamed access to Western culture, particularly videos, which have naturally become more widely available since independence in 1991. His words were borne out at a rock concert at the Moskovsky Hall in the city centre. As Sergei, one of the performers and a Robert Plant lookalike, put it: "Why would anyone want to look like Jaws from the James Bond movie?" His girlfriend merely shuddered.

It is not just the young who dislike gold teeth. Matluba Mamadjanova, a middle-aged educational adviser, swapped all four of hers for white metal ceramic ones after attending an American language teachers' conference in Athens - the sort of thing no one ever did in Soviet times.

"It was so embarrassing," she said. "There were hundreds of people there and I was the only one with gold teeth. They kept looking at me."

Zafar Nazarov, a dentist, confirms the trend. In recent weeks he has taken gold from more than 20 mouths - all of them travelling professionals.

"I used to get customers who asked me to replace perfectly healthy teeth with gold ones," he said over tea in his spartan surgery. "Nowadays that sort of thing mostly only goes on in Uzbekistan. They're a flashy lot over there."

He said he preferred the "noble metal" to ceramic because "it's soft and malleable" and the tooth can be mounted with less sawing at the root." Later, he offered to install an example of his work: "It's free for guests to our country."

I declined politely and he laughed, throwing his head back to reveal a lower jaw studded with sharp points of gold.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all