It is impossible to just walk across the road to get your tooth fixed today. That's what urbanisation has done for many old people.

These are times when you must choose doctors who are right in your immediate neighbourhood, because you cannot easily get to a medical expert whose practice is far away. Ambulances are only for emergencies, and not for the regular doctor visits. The 108 service will only take you to a hospital in a crisis, and not to a doctor’s clinic. It is true for Chennai, and for any other bustling Indian city.

What goes for doctors also goes for dentists. A prosthodontist (an expert at restoration and replacement of teeth) with a well-known practice in T.Nagar area of Chennai is now convinced that a mobile dentistry service is crucial to meet the needs of old people, who can’t take the rigours of city travel in India.

He makes the point with reference to his own clinic. It is located in a part of T.Nagar, which has in the past decade and a half been overrun by cloth merchants, jewellers and other assorted traders. These rich and influential traders have built massive unapproved buildings that have simply choked this part of the city. Concrete mass matches financial muscle.

Receiving end

Across Usman Road are people living in what used to be tranquil, old-wordly localities of Mambalam. These geriatric citizens sitting on prime real estate are now at the receiving end of urbanisation. There are old ladies and gentlemen who need dental care, but are unable to just walk over. Would it not be better if a dentist went over, and provided some help, unless it was absolutely essential for the patient to travel to the practice?

This is no trifling issue, because India will have a lot many more grey heads in coming decades, and the intelligence that our rulers show in terms of urban planning is certain to further alienate people from the cities they live in. In particular, those who wish to walk.

At the moment, the able-bodied muscle their way through the chaos, but older adults must nurse their arthritis in the confines of their homes, and wait for the occasional outing in a car, taxi or autorickshaw.

Urban planners and transportation experts generally agree that for distances up to 5 km, walking and bicycle use are ideal choices. The problem is that in most Indian cities, it is impossible to even cross one’s own street, much less trudge along decrepit footpaths that sometimes have cavernous open drains and lethal iron rods lurking within. Our political leaders and other worthies put up banners frequently across what is left of the footpath to complete our misery.

People in Chennai often come across shocking instances of people falling into roadside drains, or falling off two-wheelers thanks to treacherously protruding drain covers. The consequences are fatal in some cases. Two girls who were riding a two-wheeler fell off after losing their balance on a drain cover. The young rider lost two teeth (making prosthodontists so important even for young women).

This shameful story repeats itself across the land. The least we can hope for is for doctors and dentists to respond to our call and land at our doorstep in a country that is quickly turning a lot more grey.