Journal of Osaka Dental University
Online ISSN : 2189-6488
Print ISSN : 0475-2058
ISSN-L : 0475-2058
Study of areas with no dentists in Japan
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2019 Volume 53 Issue 2 Pages 121-126


The universal healthcare system in Japan, which has been in place since 1961, gives anyone who suffers disease or injury the security of access to medical care. However, with a more stratified society becoming a major social problem, disparities among local residents in oral health status and the frequency of dental examinations have appeared in recent years. In Japan, many areas have a shortage or lack of dentists, and thus, residents have no access to and cannot easily receive oral healthcare. Unless this situation is resolved, no redress in regional oral health disparities can be expected. In the present study, official data on the current situation in areas with no dentists in Japan were analyzed to obtain basic information for the development of policies and systems that can resolve regional disparities in oral healthcare. The results showed that areas with no dentists tended to have populations of fewer than 100 persons and a population aging rate, which is the percentage of people 65 years old or over in the total population, was 44.9%. This is considerably higher than the national average of 26.0%. In addition, 95 areas designated as having no dentists in a 2009 survey were no longer designated as such in a 2014 survey. The primary reason for this was that the population had decreased to fewer than 50 people within a radius of 4 km by the time of the 2014 survey, indicating that these areas had declining and aging populations. Thus, in the official survey results, it appeared as if the number of areas with no dentists might be decreasing. The results of the present study suggest that, in fact, the situation of oral healthcare in these areas has not improved, but rather, the decline and aging of the population is advancing, particularly in sparsely‐populated regions. To implement effective oral healthcare policies in areas with no dentists, it is essential to gain a detailed understanding of the oral status of local residents and to clarify whether oral health disparities are present within the community. However, the official survey results do not allow such an understanding of actual oral healthcare conditions. The results of the present study suggest that unless effective measures are taken in areas with no dentists, the number of people who find it difficult to access oral healthcare will increase above present levels and regional disparities in oral healthcare will worsen as a result of the declining and aging population. To provide effective oral healthcare to residents living in areas with no dentists, a simplistic approach involving the construction of new dental clinics is not sufficient. Rather, a better understanding of the actual oral health conditions and lifestyles of residents living in such areas is needed, so that specific policies and systems that match the size of the population and the characteristics of each region can be developed. (J Osaka Dent Univ 2019; 53: 121‐126)

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