Putin critic Navalny laments lack of dentistry in Russian prison

FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is seen on a screen via video link during a court hearing in Moscow

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Alexei Navalny, Russia's jailed opposition leader, on Friday raised a little publicised problem that haunts Russia's prisons: a lack of teeth.

Branded a dangerous extremist by the authorities, Navalny, 47, is serving jail terms that will keep him in prison until he is in his mid-70s unless he is freed early.

He rejects his fraud and extremism-related convictions as trumped up to stop him from mounting a political challenge against what he says is a corrupt regime leading Russia to ruin.

The Kremlin has cast Navalny as a Western-backed agent of political disruption who never represented serious political competition and was convicted on purely legal grounds.

From jail, Navalny has taunted prison authorities with bizarre requests and accused the post-Soviet elites of corruption and of squandering a historic chance for Russia to take a new path after the 1991 Soviet collapse.

On Friday, he raised dentistry, saying on social media that it was a lack of teeth - rather than criminal tattoos, prison slang or simply sadness - that marked out the inmates of Russia's vast prison population.

"What unites prisoners is the fact that the majority of them have no teeth," Navalny said.

"Poor nutrition, a lack of solid food, lots of sweet stuff (the most affordable food), a lot of strong tea, smoking, and a complete absence of dental care do for them."

Navalny said that Russian prisoners brushed their teeth "like crazy" but that prisons offered poor dentistry services: waits of several months for a dentist who then simply pulled teeth rather than bothering to try fixing them.

"When the dentist eventually arrives, he or she simply pulls a tooth because there is no necessary equipment," Navalny said, before detailing his own bizarre battle with prison authorities for dental care.

He said he had made official requests to be allowed dental care but that while allowed it was impossible as there was insufficient equipment in the jail.

Navalny said the prison had brought in an expert who said that while "air flow" hygiene was popular, teeth could be cleaned perfectly well with "iron hooks."

"Why in 2023 should I have to clean my teeth with iron hooks?" he asked.

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Andrew Osborn and William Maclean)