Recently, the Japan Medical Association protested the government’s desire to increase the number of medical schools as a means of solving the doctor shortage. The JMA says that more physicians will undermine the pay potential of all doctors and points to the situation of dentists, whose average salaries have decreased markedly in recent years due to a glut.
In a society aging as rapidly as Japan’s is, you can never have too many doctors, but dentists? As a medical practice, dentistry tends to be self-defeating. The better job dentists do in promoting oral hygiene, the less there is for them to do. Like America in the ’50s and ’60s, Japan became more aware of dental health in the ’80s and ’90s and people spent more money on their teeth and those of their children. Such a development had two outcomes: More young people turned to dentistry as a career, and people’s teeth became healthier. Since the latter meant that people required less capital-intensive dental work in the long run, dentists on the whole made less money, especially since their numbers grew as the years progressed.
Consequently, fewer students are opting for careers in dentistry, which is bad news for dentistry schools, especially private ones. According to a recent article in the Asahi Shimbun, the number of university students who said they “wanted to enter dentistry” dropped below 10,000 for the first time in 2008. A year later that number had plummeted to less than 5,000. This year, the number of applicants to the nation’s 17 private dentistry schools is less than the number of openings.