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What You Should Know Before Visiting a Dentist in Tokyo

Take a stroll through any part of Tokyo and you’re bound to pass several dental clinics. The city has more than its fair share of dentists ready and willing to help you keep your smile bright. However, not all clinics and the procedures they offer are created equal. If you have recently relocated to Japan, there are a few things that may surprise you when it comes to maintaining your oral health.

So, once again, I sat down with my colleagues David, Amelie, and Tamon for a quick conversation on our dental experiences in Japan—specifically Tokyo. Our perspectives hail from four different countries, including Japan, with the goal of helping you start an affordably healthy life abroad.

30 Minutes or Less, or Your Dental Appointment Is…

Amelie: First of all, the teeth cleaning process is quite different from what I was used to in France. For example, in France, if you want your teeth cleaned, your visit might take a while, but you only have to go once and that will last you a long time.

In Japan, however, the system works differently if you want to be covered by insurance. I’ve heard that the Japanese National Health Insurance (NHI) plan only pays for 30 minutes of a dentist’s time per appointment. This means that even if you need a lot of dental work done, a dentist might just work for 30 minutes and your appointment will be over. For more, you’ll have to come back again later.

David: This goes beyond just cleaning. A friend of mine had a procedure that should have only taken one visit, but it was spread out over several sessions instead.

Anthony: I’ve had similar experiences as well.

David: I didn’t know this was insurance-related, though.

Anthony: Tamon, can you clear this up?

Tamon: First of all, I don’t think cleaning typically takes a long time…

David: I’ve had it done in one visit.

Amelie: I guess it depends on your dentist. I often have problems…

Quality at a Price

A dentist is looking at her patient's mouth

Anthony: One thing I’ve noticed, at least compared to the U.S., is that the cleaning covered under insurance is not as thorough. If you want to get a deeper cleaning In Japan, you have to pay more out of pocket, which raises your bill from around 2,000 yen to about 8,000 yen or more.

David: Really? I wasn’t even aware that you could get a deeper cleaning.

Anthony: Absolutely—you can get any treatment that you’re familiar with from your home country. You just have to pay more out of pocket.

My previous dentist would compensate for basic cleanings by having me come back every three months. In the U.S.—or if you go to a Tokyo-based dentist who trained in the U.S.—they’re going to suggest checkups every six months. How about in France and Belgium?

David: In Belgium, it’s six months. It used to be a year.

Amelie: It’s six months or a year in France too.

Anthony: I guess I got swindled… [laughs]

David: Well, if the cleaning isn’t so deep, that timeframe makes sense.

Amelie: Anyway, this is just something I thought I should share. Expect things to be very different from what you’re used to in your own country—in ways that you wouldn’t necessarily imagine.

Anthony: Yes, the bottom line is that the technology here is cutting edge, and there are plenty of dentists to try. But, you might have to pay a little bit more to get the treatment that you were accustomed to in your home country.

Finding the Dentist That’s Right for You

This brief, spontaneous discussion only scratches the surface of dentistry in Tokyo. An international city packed to the brim with over 13 million people, there are plenty of top-notch dental care providers that meet the needs of the international community. If you are looking for an English-speaking dentist, including those who offer cosmetic services, the team at Best Living Japan has curated a useful list.

Originally from California, I've been living and working in Japan, now my second home, since 2009. My work as a communications consultant lends a unique perspective to my writing, and I often explore the business behind Japan’s beauty. When I’m not working, you can find me hunched over a screen reviewing kanji flashcards in my never-ending quest to master the Japanese language.