Oral health of dental students highlights several issues

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Oral health study of dental students highlights wider demographic issues

In a recent study, researchers from Japan investigated the oral health of first-year dental students and found several issues that highlight a broader problem among the country’s adolescent population. (Image: siriwat sriphojaroen/Shutterstock)
Dental Tribune International

Dental Tribune International

Fri. 25. February 2022


TOKYO, Japan: Over the past few decades, Japan has put a tremendous amount of effort into improving the population’s oral health. However, in a recent study, researchers investigated the oral health of first-year dental students and found a significant percentage of participants had dental caries and gingivitis, something that might highlight a broader issue among Japan’s youth.

“Although since 2011 local authorities in Japan have implemented various efforts to promote oral health across all age groups, based on the Act concerning the Promotion of Dental and Oral Health, oral health problems in young people have gone unnoticed and remain unaddressed,” said lead author Dr Kumiko Sugimoto in an interview with Dental Tribune International.

Dr Sugimoto is an emeritus professor in the Department of Oral Health Care Education at Tokyo Medical and Dental University. Along with her team, she examined the oral health of 108 first-year dental students at the university. It could be easy to assume that the oral health of students entering the dental field might be considerably better than the general population; however, the study’s results underscore the significance of the issue. According to the paper, 43.5% of students had dental caries, and half the group had gingivitis. In a 2020 Statista survey of more than 3,000 Japanese young people aged from 12 to 18 and over, nearly 60% reported oral hygiene issues, including, but not limited to, yellow staining, plaque and dental caries.

Elaborating on the oral health issues of Japan’s youth in general, Dr Sugimoto said: “The opportunities for receiving annual check-ups decrease after high school because, up until that point, they are mandatory.” Many students go to universities, colleges and vocational schools once they leave school. “Young people start living alone and leave parental supervision, which may link to irregular diet and poor oral hygiene habits,” she explained.

Another element of importance is the structure of Japan’s healthcare. Dr Sugimoto said: “Japanese universal health insurance covers treatment of oral diseases but not preventive care, and most Japanese people visit dental clinics only when they have dental problems.” COVID-19 has caused added disruption, and the issue does not appear to be improving. As noted by Dr Sugimoto, since the beginning of the pandemic fewer people have visited the dentist, as many are trying to avoid the risk of COVID-19 infection. “The number of young people facing economic hardship has also been rapidly increasing owing to the pandemic, and this may be another reason for the decrease in visits,” she continued.

Speaking on how the oral health issues facing Japan’s youth could be improved, Dr Sugimoto noted the importance of oral health professionals getting more information out to the public. Especially crucial are the professionals engaged in work at universities and educational institutions who are in close contact with students and can help raise awareness regarding the importance of dental check-ups and general oral health.

The study, titled A survey of oral health status, subjective oral symptoms and oral health behaviors among first-year dental students at a Japanese university”, was published in the January 2022 issue of the Journal of Oral Science.


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