By Dr. Goro Nakamaru
Hello. My name is Goro Nakamaru. I’m the owner of the Nakamaru Dental Clinic in Yokohama. In 2015, I made the difficult decision to cease accepting Japan’s National Health Insurance (NHI). In this article, I would like to share three compelling reasons to opt for private dental care in Japan and my reasons for becoming a private practice (as opposed to continue being one under the umbrella of the governments’ NHI system).
In addition to being a dentist whose goal is to offer the best dental care possible, I also feel obliged to educate my patients and others regarding dental practices in Japan. For example, did you know that there are no strict laws governing disinfection, such as sterilizing instruments in a dental office? Media research shockingly revealed that 70% of dental offices in Japan did not have sterilized air turbine hand pieces – used inside patients’ mouths. The news caused a sensation in Japan, and it wasn’t just sterilized instruments either.
The next time before you sit down in a dentist’s chair, take a look around and check if your dentist uses a “Cover-All” – a piece of clear film used to cover areas the dentist touches. The flexible sheet should cover the entire area the dentist intends to touch; its purpose is to protect the patient from possible saliva and blood-transferred infections. Wiping off areas with alcohol is not good enough. The Cover-All is meant to be disposed after each patient visit with a new one applied for the next patient.
The sad truth is: Japanese dental practice laws are old and haven’t changed in ages. Compared to the USA, you’d be surprised just how slack they are. This is why I stopped running my clinic under the NHI system. Three compelling reasons to opt for private dental care in Japan are:
- Orthodontics, implant, porcelain (ceramics), and root canal treatment via a dental microscope are not covered by Japanese Insurance, and cannot be combined with Japanese Insurance by law. (More about our special microscope in a future blog article).
- Japanese National Health Insurance (and perhaps any public insurance policy) does not cover cutting edge technology procedures because of the costs involved. Japanese NHI does not allow us to use the best materials for your teeth. Instead, it demands only metals and plastics to be used. In other words, we are not allowed to treat our clients’ teeth properly when they use Japanese Insurance.
- Very precise dental work requires a decent amount of time. Japanese Insurance, however, does not allow dentists this option. 20-30 minutes a visit is not enough time for quality work.
The Japanese NHI system went into effect about 50 years ago (in 1959). Since then, the system has not changed much, and neither has the way teeth are treated by Japanese dentists. Most Japanese dentists still practice and use outdated dental techniques. I didn’t realize the reality of this problem until I went to the United States to study and learn dentistry.
I strongly believe that your teeth are precious for a good and healthy life. And we, as dentists, need to protect your teeth using correct modern methods, which is unfortunately not very popular in Japan at this point. If you do not have Japanese Insurance, then of course you have no choice but to pick a private clinic. But if you are a Japanese Insurance holder, please think twice about how you’d like your teeth protected and cared for.