Conduct even the lightest of internet searches for something along the lines of, ‘going to the dentist in Japan’, and you’ll be awash with a library of blog posts and forum comments from expats in Japan airing grievences about the poor standard of treatment (as if a stint in the dental chair was once a fun thing).  Of course, one should tread with caution in the murky world of the Internet forum, but there seem to be enough horror stories about the Japanese dental experience to add weight to the claims.  

Is it all that bad?  In my experience, not at all.  I should add some context here however; back home the frightening costs of private dental care can reduce people to queuing overnight whenever a new, state-run clinic sets up in town, that or getting drunk and connecting troublesome tooth to a door with some string.  Here in Japan, rumour has it that there are more dental clinics than there are convenience stores (and there’s a lot of those) so our gripes can’t be aimed at shortages or poor access.  Not that all of these clinics will accept our national or social insurance.

Here in Japan, the expat is probably faced with four dental care options: 


Pay up for treatment from a private practice with a multilingual dentist

Go out of their way to research and visit a regular clinic that may be able to handle some of the linguistics

Take their chances at the nearest clinic to home / work

Hop on a flight to Thailand and partake of one of modern travel’s most depressing phenomena, medical tourism


Whatever option one chooses in Japan (skipping over the last one for now), the gripes seem to follow a common pattern …


Multiple visits to cover a single treatment

Hard to disagree with this one.  Whatever I might say about dental care back home, things are usually done in one sitting (perhaps a veiled admission that even the dentist knows prices are exorbitant).  Here in Japan, anything beyond a simple scrape and polish seems to have your days off booked up for weeks.

Clinic layout

Maybe it sounds pedantic to get picky about the Feng Shui of a dental clinic, but some foreigners in Japan seem to harbor a point of concern; spaces with multiple dental stations separated (if at all) by a flimsy bit of shower curtain.  On the part of the dentist, this allows them to zip between patients without having to get out of their chair on wheels.  For some expats, it means a gaping lack of privacy.  Still, given the potential horrors that await in any dental clinic, anywhere in the world, privacy would seem to be of scant concern.  For me, at least.

Spartan use of anesthetic

Although this sounds like a nightmare scenario from a cheap horror flick, this expat has always been numbed up pretty nicely in Japan, when the occasion calls for it.  Perhaps practices vary in this regard but I, for one, would praise any medical professional reluctant to knock a patient out unless absolutely required.

Turned away from clinics due to lack of insurance and/or language barriers

To be turned away from somewhere so vital as a medical intitute due to language barriers would seem a clear case to file under 'poor form'.  In the current climate of preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics however, such incidences in Japan are becoming harder to image.  In terms of not having insurance, it's usally the case that if a patient (me) shows willing to pay on the day, then they are welcomed in for treatment.


I presented some of these concerns to an acquaintance working in the dental profession here in Japan and began with the question, ‘What happens when a foreign resident shows up at a clinic for the first time, wanting to have their teeth checked?’.


Read the rest of this article from blogger ‘Tommu’ at