Kandahar Tooth Makers | Business and economy


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Kandahar, Afghanistan – In a small shop on a busy street in downtown Kandahar, Haji Muhammad Sultan is busy.

It’s early in the morning in March and the first customers of the day are pouring into the outdoor bazaar. In the shop, Sultan chisels smooth plaster into a brass, palm-sized mold that is barely audible. Sultan caresses the mold gently in his wrinkled hands, slicing through what’s inside: a new set of teeth.

After the plaster is removed, Sultan looks at the work, turning the denture slowly between his fingers. “They have to be perfect,” he says with a small smile.

Sultan’s family dental practice was established in Afghanistan’s second largest city by his grandfather, Haji Gul Mohammad, 80 years ago. Sultan says it’s the first of its kind in the country, the only shop that makes handmade dentures, although if Kandahar residents tell you as much, it’s hard to prove.

Photo of an old man.
Haji Gul Mohammad started the family business 80 years ago after learning how to make dentures in India. [Courtesy of the family]

Sultan’s father, Haji Nazar Muhammad, who learned his trade from his childhood, took over from his father. In the year A 1998 portrait of Sultan’s father by American photographer Steve McCurry – who has photographed the people and landscape of Afghanistan for 35 years – shows a gray-and-white-bearded dentist sitting in front of a simple shop in Kandahar. Immersed in his delicate work, the teeth that lined his hands weakened. A black bicycle stands in front of a table covered with teeth.

After his father’s death in 2008, Sultan took over the business and continues the family legacy of making toothpicks at the woodworking bench in McCurry’s photo.

No one knows how widely McCurry’s photo was seen outside of Afghanistan, but the photographer remembers taking it.

Sultan looks a lot like his father with a white turban and a long beard. “Sometimes people ask me if I am Haji Nazar Mohammed because I look like my father,” said the 65-year-old. “My eldest son will look like me when he gets old.



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