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The unlikely pair

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Susuk in dentistry reflects the intricate interplay between cultural traditions and oral health practices in Malaysia. Lesly Juarez - Unsplash

By: Assoc. Prof. Dr. Lim Ghee Seong, Dr. Nurul Huda Hamzah

In the fabric of Malaysia’s diverse cultural landscape, certain traditional practices hold a unique place, one of which is the age-old tradition of “susuk.” Rooted in local beliefs and customs, “susuk” involves the insertion of small, metallic objects (usually needle-like object made of either gold, copper, silver, iron or other metals, even precious stones like diamonds) under the skin, a practice that has found its way into various aspects of Malaysian life, including dentistry. Most of the time, it is an incidental finding during routine oral radiography.

While “susuk” is not exclusive to dentistry, it has made its mark in the realm of oral health. Individuals seeking a captivating smile or enhanced oral aesthetics may opt for “susuk” in the facial region, including the oral cavity. This practice, deeply embedded in cultural and mystical beliefs, is perceived to bring about advantages, often influencing the choices of those who believe in its mystical powers.

The allure of “susuk” lies in the perceived advantages it promises. In the context of dentistry, individuals may believe that the insertion of these metallic objects can enhance the aesthetics of their smiles, promote oral health, or even improve speech. The perceived benefits, though rooted in cultural traditions, contribute to the continued practice of susuk in the Malaysian community.

According to history, “susuk” practitioners appeared since the time of the Pharaohs. It was found that an old man of hundreds of years old may look as young as in his early 20s because of the “susuk” implantation. The process is normally done by the help of shaman through spells to make it effective. Understanding why the Malaysian community embraces and practices “susuk” requires delving into cultural beliefs. “Susuk” is often associated with notions of beauty, attraction, and protection from supernatural entities. It is deeply entrenched in the cultural fabric, passed down through generations as a tradition that holds both aesthetic and metaphysical significance.

While “susuk” is embraced by some for its perceived benefits, it is crucial to acknowledge the potential consequences associated with this practice. Inserting foreign objects under the skin poses inherent risks, including the possibility of infection, inflammation, or migration of the inserted materials. These risks, if realized, can have implications for both oral and overall health.

As dental professionals, it is imperative to approach discussions about cultural practices such as “susuk” with sensitivity and respect. Acknowledging the cultural significance while providing evidence-based guidance on oral health is a delicate balance that practitioners must strike. Open communication channels can foster understanding and bridge the gap between cultural traditions and modern dental care.

In conclusion, “susuk” in dentistry reflects the intricate interplay between cultural traditions and oral health practices in Malaysia. While some seek its perceived advantages, it is vital to approach such practices with a discerning eye, considering the potential risks involved.

Susuk and dentistry, this seemingly unlikely pair, might just well be the sweet spot where practitioners may play a pivotal role in providing holistic care that respects cultural beliefs while ensuring the best possible oral health outcomes for their patients.

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Dr. Lim is a Dental Lecturer at the Department of Restorative Dentistry, Faculty of Dentisty, Universiti Malaya, while Dr. Nurul Huda is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of English Language, Faculty of Languages and Linguistics, Universiti Malaya.

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