Japan starts to get down in the mouth over its crooked teeth

Nobuko Juji and Mariko Sanchanta – The Financial Times

This is a feature that got away from me while I lived in Japan. I’d always intended to write something on this, and struggled, as is often the case on trend stories there, how to do it without having the story fall into the “those wierd and wacky Japanese” category, an old, indeed venerable fallback of Western reporting on Japan.
Copyright 2005 The Financial Times:
Many Japanese women have the habit of demurely covering their mouth with one hand when they giggle.
To the casual observer, the gesture appears to be just another
manifestation of the rigid politeness for which Japan is famed.
But peer behind the hand, and the reason becomes clear: it is often an attempt to conceal a mouthful of crooked teeth.
Despite Japan’s economic clout and the technological prowess of its companies, experts contend the country’s dental services – and the teeth of its people – have made little progress.
The Japanese, along with the British, share the ignominious
distinction of having the worst teeth among G7 nationals.
Some experts contend that certain developing nations boast better
dental services than those available in Japan.
“The Japanese have much poorer oral conditions than not only
westerners but people in less economically developed nations,” says Dr Kazumi Ikeda, an orthodontist who has practised in Tokyo for more than 20 years.
“You would be horrified if you examined the smiles of those who appear on TV or in magazines, all dressed up.” …
Teethart, which specialises in teeth whitening services (or “teeth
manicure”, in its parlance), opened its first office in 1995 in the
posh Ginza district, and now has 12 salons in Japan. The number of its patients has swelled from 1,000 in 1995 to 17,000 in fiscal 2003.
Capitalising on the Japanese habit of lightening and whitening their skin (known as bihaku, which literally means “beautiful white”), Teethart promises to whiten women’s teeth to match their epidermis. “Just as your skin is white, wouldn’t you like to have white teeth?” asks a Teethart brochure…
…But why are Japan’s dental services so shoddy to begin with? The answer is the country’s healthcare system and the dental educationalsystem. The government sets dental fees, which promotes inefficiency…
…”In the States, if you educate patients and they understand more aboutthe products, they tend to buy the products. But in Japan, national health insurance covers everything and the fees are the same for every dentist, regardless of age or experience.”
Traditionally, Japanese dentists have been one of the biggest
financial supporters of the ruling Liberal Democratic party (LDP) over the years…
…Recently, a furore erupted over revelations that Ryutaro Hashimoto, a former prime minister, had received a cheque for Y100m on behalf of the powerful Japan Dental Association (JDA) in 2001, when he had dinner at a Tokyo restaurant with two former dental association executives, including its head, Sadao Usuda…
For the original article in its entirety, please see the link below.


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