A mouthful of metal was once considered the bane of many a teenage life, but in a strange, new fashion trend in the Land of Smiles, it's suddenly hip to be a 'brace-face'. The fad for false orthodontic braces in all manner of lurid colours has some dentists and government health authorities alarmed. At market stalls and in shopping centres, however, they are selling like hot cakes. 'I think they're cute and sexy,' says Sunisa, a 16-year-old, shopping with her friends in Mah Boon Krong shopping centre. Her smile reveals a shocking mouthful of pink and purple. 'Boys are really interested to kiss me now, too,' she adds with a giggle. Getting real braces fitted by a professional dentist costs somewhere between 10,000 baht ($1,930) to 60,000 baht, and necessitates several follow-up trips to make sure the braces are correcting crooked teeth as intended. But several stalls in Mah Boon Krong are selling fake braces as fashion items for as little as 100 baht - simple pieces of wire with loops to look like the real thing, worn by hooking the wire around the molars. For about 4,000 to 5,000 baht, some dental clinics will actually fix fake braces for fashion victims, even if they have perfect teeth. Dr Sutha Jiaramaneechotechai, director of the government's Dental Health Division, says he is alarmed by the trend, and that no one but a qualified dentist should attempt to fit braces. 'The metal must be fitted properly, so as not to irritate the gums and the lining of the mouth,' he says, adding that cheap fake braces can erode tooth enamel or even dissolve into harmful chemicals through prolonged contact with saliva. He says government health officers are conducting tests on a variety of fake braces to discover what they are made of, and if harmful side effects are likely. The issue has become confused, with some big dental clinics jumping on the bandwagon. On its website, Silom Dental Centre says: 'Most people think of metal braces as the big, clunky braces of the past ... however, times have changed and so have braces. Braces no longer need to be dull. We have a full line of coloured elastics with which you can mix 'n' match, make a fashion statement or show home-team spirit with matching team colours. With each monthly visit you will have the opportunity to change colours and keep your look fresh.' One Bangkok dentist, who does not want to be named, says he is outraged by such claims. 'I think it's confusing for youngsters, who see this as a trend that even dentists are supporting,' he says. 'Many can't afford the real thing, so they will opt for cheap fake braces and damage their teeth - possibly irreparably.' Dr Somchai Satravaha, president-elect of Thailand's orthodontist association, says: 'The fakes don't affect the position of the teeth, but the pressure they exert on the girl's jaw can make them awkward and painful.' Dr Paisal Kangwolkit, secretary-general of the Dental Committee, a government advisory body, also voices concerns. 'Fixing the [fake] braces for the patient should not be regarded as illegal medical practice if the dentists doing it are qualified, but untrained people should certainly be prosecuted,' he says. 'We have no way of preventing people from affixing braces by themselves, but if they don't sterilise the various instruments, they could possibly open the door to viruses such as hepatitis B.' On one internet forum, the chat room is buzzing with gossip and tips about fake braces. 'A stall sprung up near my school with a batch of false braces going for 50 baht,' writes Chompoo. 'The stock ran out in a few hours, and when it returned, its prices had doubled.' In another forum, some girls recommend getting braces fitted as a weight-loss measure, because it makes eating harder. Wh'When you've got braces, eating and cleaning your teeth is a real pain,' writes Fai. 'I think it's great. I've lost 2kg since I got my green and blue craces fitted last month.'