If you need to see a dentist in Japan but don’t know where to begin, this is the guide for you. Whether you’re going in for a cavity check, routine cleaning or the dreaded root canal, we’ll give you an overview of what to expect in terms of fees (just how much does dental work cost in Japan, anyway?), procedures, pain management and more. We’ll also throw in some useful Japanese vocabulary for the dentist, as well as a list of some English-speaking dentists in Tokyo.
Before we drill down (ouch) into the details, let’s get a
somewhat offensive popular question out of the way: are Japanese dentists good? The short answer is: yes, many Japanese dentists are good. The long answer is that, just like in your home country, it pays to be selective. Some dentists are better than others. Our advice is to find a really good one, and stick with them.
Where can I find a dentist in Tokyo?
Pretty much anywhere, really. The Japanese words for dentist are 歯医者 (ha-isha, or tooth doctor) and 歯科医師 (shika-ishi, the same thing), and a stroll around your neighborhood should reveal at least one, likely more. In 2016, there were said to be more dentists than convenience stores in Japan; globally, the country has one of the highest numbers of dentists per 100,000 people—heading into surplus territory. So, unless you live out in the sticks, you shouldn’t have much trouble finding a dentist. Whether the dentist will be able to speak English, or offer the type of treatment you want/expect, however, is less certain.
Dental clinics vs. dental departments in hospitals
You can choose between a private dental clinic, which offers greater flexibility with appointment times, or a dental department in a hospital. Depending on the hospital and the treatment you require, you might need a referral letter from a private dentist (or doctor)—hospitals often handle more specialized work, like risky wisdom teeth removal, and orthodontic treatments for snoring. Hospitals, like the majority of private dental clinics in Japan, accept National Health Insurance—more on the costs below.
How much does it cost to go to the dentist in Japan?
It depends where you’re going, and what you need/want done, but generally speaking, dental care is not expensive in Japan. As mentioned above, most dentists accept Japanese health insurance, meaning that 70% of the fee will be subsidized. As a quick example, you can probably expect to pay around ¥3,500 for an initial check-up or cleaning session, with any necessary follow-up work about half that (or less).
The treatment covered by insurance is a little limited, but much cheaper than paying out of pocket. As another example, white composite resin fillings are generally covered (so you don’t have to get amalgam), but when it comes to crowns, you might be restricted to a porcelain and metal mix, which is not as aesthetically awesome as a ceramic crown (or, you know, a gold tooth, if that’s your thing). When this writer had a new crown fitted in 2015, it cost about ¥5,000—that’s ¥155,000 less than the price quoted for a ceramic version, which would not have been covered by insurance.
One thing to keep in mind is that while general dentistry is fairly affordable, “cosmetic” dentistry can be expensive in Japan. This includes work like:
- Whitening (can range from ¥5,000–¥60,000, depending on whether you want a home kit or in-chair treatment)
- Braces, including Invisalign (¥1,000,000 and up)
- Gold and other fancy metal teeth (we’re too cheap to know how much such things cost)
Dentures and false teeth/implants can come with hefty price tags too—if you need to replace any teeth, your best bet is to chat to a dentist that accepts health insurance first.
Why do we keep banging on about the health insurance thing? Because some dentists in Japan don’t allow you to use it, meaning that everything—from X-rays to numbing injections and more—must be paid out of pocket. These are often also the English-speaking dentists (or the ones that advertise themselves as such, anyway). They’ll usually have prices listed on their website, and we strongly recommend counting the zeros before you roll into the clinic.
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What should I expect when I go to the dentist in Japan?
Let’s imagine you’re going in for a routine check, a cavity or a root canal (actually, let’s never imagine that—*shudder*). If you pick a local dentist, you can expect:
- To hand over your health insurance card, and fill in a patient intake form and medical history questionnaire
- To be led through to the chair; this may be in a room where other patients are being treated in full or partial view (drill and suction orchestra, yay)
- To be asked to rinse with mouthwash and spit (Japan still uses cuspidors)
- To have your teeth checked by a hygienist and/or dentist (note: in our experience, the good ones will also prick your gums to check inflammation levels; the best ones will even give you a printed report card)
- To have X-rays taken (usually once every two years)
- To have the dental work started*
- To be given information on follow-up sessions
- To have your teeth cleaned (if it’s a routine check or cleaning session) and flossed (note: this may not be as thorough as the cleaning you are used to—see the advice below about longer, appointment-based visits and you should be satisfied, though)
*The emphasis is on having the dental work “started”; many dentists in Japan will do a little bit at a time, asking you to come back for 3-4 short sessions. Our recommendation? Look for a dentist that offers 45-60-minute sessions instead of quick 20-30-minute walk-ins; these ones tend to get more done, in fewer visits. A lot of Japanese dentists operate on a walk-in basis, so look for one that offers appointments, rather.
If you go the out-of-pocket route, you can probably expect separate, or at least more fully partitioned, treatment rooms, as well as fewer visits, a wider range of treatments and sometimes more willingness to use local anesthetics.
The numbing injections have long been a hot topic: foreign residents swap stories of how they “could feel the drill going right down into the dead root” because their dentist ignored their pleas for anesthetic. In our experience, this hasn’t been an issue—we have always received local anesthetic, though sometimes we have had to ask for it explicitly, or ask for more. Though it may seem like something out of an old film, laughing gas is also sometimes an option.
Useful vocabulary for visiting a dentist in Japan
Even if they don’t admit it, a lot of dentists in Japan can actually speak a bit of English—they will probably at least know some of the main dental terms. To make your time in the chair a little easier, though, here are some handy words and phrases:
- Dentist: haisha, shikaishi or shikaiin (dental clinic)
- I’d like to make an appointment: yoyaku shitai desu ga …
- My tooth hurts: ha ga itai desu (then point and look pitiful)
- Cavity: mushiba
- Filling: tsumemono
- Tartar: shiseki
- Gums: haguki
- Inflammation: enshou
- Anesthetic: masui
- Toothbrush: ha burashi
- Toothpaste: hamigakiko
- Floss: furosu
- X-ray: rentogen
- Check-up: kenshin
- Whitening: howaitoningu
- Gargle: ugai
- Root canal: konkan
- Crown: kuraun
List of English-speaking dentists in Tokyo
If you want to keep things simple, you could try one of these English-speaking dentists in Tokyo:
- Tokyo Midtown Dental Clinic (Roppongi): General and cosmetic dentistry. Female director and majority female dentists. Some treatments covered by Japanese health insurance, others not. If you are a tourist or business traveler in Japan, this is your recommended first stop for emergency treatment (or just go to a hospital, if it is extreme).
- Ryo Dental Clinic (Hatchobori): Top rated. General and cosmetic dentistry, as well as emergency dentistry. Japanese health insurance not accepted.
- United Dental Office (Roppongi): US-trained dentist. General and cosmetic dentistry, as well as emergency dentistry. Japanese health insurance not accepted.
- Trust Dental Clinic (Shibuya): US-trained dentist. General and cosmetic dentistry. Some treatments covered by Japanese health insurance, others not.
- Fujimi Dental Clinic (Ginza): General and cosmetic dentistry. Some treatments covered by Japanese health insurance, others not.
Please note that the above is by no means an exhaustive list of English-speaking dentists in Tokyo!
While we do our best to ensure it’s correct, information is subject to change. This post is not intended as medical advice, and we did not receive any sponsorship for publishing it. Always consult a qualified medical practitioner if you have any health concerns.