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Japanese gov't plans to introduce mandatory dental checks: Good idea or not?

22 Comments
By Michael Hoffman

“Seriously?” asks Weekly Playboy (July 11). “Is Japan a ‘country of bad teeth?'” To the point of requiring political intervention?

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida last month unveiled his government’s intention to introduce mandatory dental checks – for the entire population; not just, as now, for children aged one and a half to three, junior and senior high school students, and workers handling certain dangerous chemicals.

It’s a reflection of the sad state worldwide of freedom under checked and balanced governments if the first thought to occur is of a coup d’état via the people’s mouths. It’s not that – though those seized with convulsive  fear at the prospect of visiting a dentist (there are many, it seems) may disagree. Still, the underlying issues raised by Playboy have moral shadings. Is the motivation medical? Political? Economic? Even psychology seems involved, relative to dentists’ alleged chronic inferiority complex vis-à-vis doctors of more respected parts of the body than the mouth happens to be.

The reform is pushed, Playboy claims, by politicians with close ties to the Japan Dental Association (JDA), whose clout of late is rising. This is a tale in itself. Traditionally, political influence has lain securely in the lap of the Japan Medical Association (JMA). Generous donations to governing Liberal Democratic Party election coffers have been rewarded, it is alleged, by more generous treatment under the national health insurance plan than dentists enjoy. The  overall picture is of doctors awash in power, respect and money, while dentists, though routinely addressed as “Doctor,”  hover as poor relatives on the fringes of the medical profession.

Enter, as in so many contemporary dramas, COVID-19. The JMA over the past three years has been critical of the government’s handling of the epidemic. The government has not taken this kindly. Relations have cooled. The JDA saw in this an opening. Cautiously, it placed a foot in the door.

That’s one hypothetical explanation for Kishida’s announcement. One fact seems to support a contention that considerations other than medical are at the fore: the steady drop in the number of cavities among Japanese children. Twenty years ago, the average 12-year-old showed up for a dental check with 4.8 cavities – down now to 0.84. Why, then, move so boldly to solve a problem that seems to be solving itself?

The answer is that cavities are not the main issue. More crucial by far is the gum infection known as periodontitis. Untreated, it can knock your teeth out. Worse, it can spread, causing or aggravating heart disease, hardening of the arteries and diabetes. In pregnant women it can trigger premature birth. And Japan, says Playboy, owing apparently to poor dental hygiene, is “a periodontitis superpower.” Two adults in three are said to be at risk.

Bad teeth are a threat to the whole body. And healthy teeth promote overall health. Few political motives are pure, and some of the ones in play here may not pass moral scrutiny; still, Playboy takes a generally positive view.

But dentists have an image problem. It’s not their fault. The patient lies helpless on the chair, mouth open, staring up into a face that, under the circumstances and in the glare of the characteristic dental lighting, can only look ghoulish – to say nothing of the instruments wielded and the sounds produced. We’re lucky to live in an age of anesthetics –  at the vanguard of which, by the way, stands a dentist, the American Horace Wells (1815-1848). Unanesthetized dentistry must have been excruciating.

 It’s merely uncomfortable now, but Playboy introduces individuals who would rather – and in fact do – live with the agony of rotting teeth than submit to treatment. One 36-year-old man suffered for decades. He made dental appointments, cancelled them, made them again, failed to show – until finally, strange to say, the pain vanished. He feels vindicated. Perhaps he’ll live to discover that his victory is hollow. Disease has its mysterious ways, playing mysterious games, fooling us into lowering our defenses and then returning, not in fun this time.

 Michael Hoffman is the author of “Fuji, Sinai, Olympos.” 

© Japan Today

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.

22 Comments
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So what is the punishment for not going? Prison? Forced dentistry at gunpoint?

Thankfully, this will never happen in the UK. We don't have enough dentists for those who actually want to see one. A member of my family has been on a waiting list to see a dentist for more than a decade. We do have emergency dentistry at hospitals, but post-Brexit all parts of the NHS are running with too few staff.

Personally, if I was up for re-election, this is not something I would go public on. But maybe Japanese people like dentists.

1 ( +6 / -5 )

Sound good

3 ( +6 / -3 )

Is Japan a ‘country of bad teeth?'

Ha! Yaaas! That's such a big yes.

-10 ( +7 / -17 )

'Democracy' is forcing the population to do what an oligarchy says now, is it?

-3 ( +4 / -7 )

Its unconstitutional to force people to wear masks.

Is it OK to force dental checks, but not masks?

How does this constitution works?

-5 ( +5 / -10 )

It is very welcome. Most people do neglect their own health due to the burden of giving the more they can to work. Most people do not brush their teeth after eating to save time to rush hurry to go back to work. If it is mandatory so they have an official reason to take care of their teeth. Great and good news.

5 ( +8 / -3 )

If I mention to a friend that I have a dental appointment, the usual reaction is to show concern and ask which tooth needs to come out. Saying I’m just going for a check and cleanup is met with a total lack of understanding. Why would I want to go to the dentist if I don’t even have toothache?? It seems for many Japanese people going to the dentist is a last resort, not a preventive measure.

That said, I can’t say I agree with compulsory dental visits. Instead teach people that visits to the dentist are preventative, not a last resort. I suppose the could try including dental checks in the annual health checks hosted by local authorities.

13 ( +15 / -2 )

Mandatory dental visits for school age children is common in some countries. Norway has been doing it for almost a hundred years.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

@1glenn.

Visits to the school dentist in the 1970s were the most traumatic moments of my youth (worse than nearly drowning and being rushed to hospital, choking). I consider mandatory dental visits an acceptable rationale for overthrowing a government by violent revolution.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

 “Is Japan a ‘country of bad teeth?'”

Of course it is. Cannot understand why so manyJ girls care so much about their hair, make up and outfits and then when they open their mouth...eek.

-8 ( +7 / -15 )

Yes, definitely

while Japan and Japanese people are relatively clean…. Japan has some of the Fugliest Teeth outside of Britain!

-7 ( +6 / -13 )

Mandatory? How would enforce it? Will these check up be free, or will poorer people be punished for not going.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

well again there is no need to "invent" something new,just learn from others.

in my country of original annual health check and dental check is paid by gov until you are 18yo...

5 ( +6 / -1 )

This article appears to have neglected the point that Japan has more dentists than convenience stores, creating a glut that has resulted in low income, with many going into debt to pay for chairs, drills and other expensive equipment. Their solution is to come up with more ways for dentists to tap into the national health insurance scheme, hence the proposal to make visiting the dentist compulsory

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida last month unveiled his government’s intention to introduce mandatory dental checks – for the entire population; not just, as now, for children aged one and a half to three, junior and senior high school students, and workers handling certain dangerous chemicals.

Ok- so what if you are found to have bad teeth? Then what?

Mandatory? How would enforce it? Will these check up be free, or will poorer people be punished for not going.

Good questions

It’s a reflection of the sad state worldwide of freedom under checked and balanced governments if the first thought to occur is of a coup d’état via the people’s mouths. 

that's making the assumption that Japan is one of the countries in the world that respects freedom. It isn't

-9 ( +2 / -11 )

No freedom here except having drinks outside!

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

Government decide good thing.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I see many super cute girls but once I see the teeth it destroys the initial excitement! Teeth are a vital part of ones appearance and in some cases even if fugly it enhances everything!

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

If the government will pay for it, why not.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Sounds like a makework scheme for the dental industry. With just about as many dentists as convenience stores around here and a declining population, it's probably the result of dental lobbyists trying to drum up work for dentists who have holes in their schedules.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Good idea, I see a dentist every 3 months. I see toooooooo many people with bad teeth or none at all!!! But you have to make it affordable!!!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

cleoJuly 3  09:03 pm JST

If I mention to a friend that I have a dental appointment, the usual reaction is to show concern and ask which tooth needs to come out. Saying I’m just going for a check and cleanup is met with a total lack of understanding. Why would I want to go to the dentist if I don’t even have toothache?? It seems for many Japanese people going to the dentist is a last resort, not a preventive measure.

How strange. I have a check and clean every 3 months and it's covered by health insurance so costs little. All the people I know seems to think it perfectly normal and in fact, quite admirable. Maybe it's a geographical thing? I think you're up north somewhere and I'm in the west and where I live there seems to be a dental clinic on every corner and new ones are being built. I'm also lucky enough to have a university dental teaching hospital in town.

So, don't see any need to make the checks compulsory though it wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing if they were. When I was a kid many years ago the dentist came to the school twice a year.

Anyone who is widely travelled will know that in most 2nd and 3rd world countries the people tend to have fairly bad teeth compared to Japan. Parents here need to be educated sufficiently to make sure that their kids have good and regular dental care in their formative years to avoid some of the bad cases of far too many teeth in the mouth which one sees fairly often. Cosmetic dental work seems less prevalent here apart from TV tarento where it's way too obvious.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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