【Aging, safety net and fiscal crisis in Japan】No.109: An Oversupply of Dentists

In this column series, Yukihiro Matsuyama, Research Director at CIGS introduces the latest information about aging, safety net and fiscal crisis in Japan with data of international comparison.

While I introduced a prediction in Column No. 107 that the supply of physicians will exceed the demand in around 2028, the number of dentists has already become excessive. As shown in Figure 1, the number of dentists increased from 58,362 in 1982 to 104,533 in 2016. Although the appropriate number of dentists is said to be 50 per 100,000 people, it is 82.4 as of 2016. As background to this, there are 27 universities with dental schools and the enrollment capacity is 2,482.

As shown in Table 1, general medical care expenses increased by 14.2% between 2005 and 2015, but the rate of increase in dental care expenses is 8.1%. The number of dental clinics is 68,864 as of 2017, which is more than the number of convenience stores (56,675). Due to excessive competition, the average annual income of dentists is on the same level as general workers. When I was a COO (Chief Operating Officer) at a private hospital in 2007, I was surprised that the annual salary of hospital dentists with ten years of experience was 3,300,000 yen (US$ 30,000), which was less than the annual salary of a nurse of the same age (4,000,000 yen = US$ 36,364). It is difficult for dentists to recover their educational investment amount. Although it is necessary to reduce the number of dentistry departments, universities are reluctant to do so.

Figure 1: Number of dentists

Source: Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare

Table 1: Growth rate comparison between general medical care expenses and dental care expenses

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