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Orthodontics for healthy smile

Kenichiro Yoshii, the third generation owner of Yoshii Orthodontic Clinic, specializes in orthodontic treatment to improve functional, aesthetic and healthy oral conditions. His grandfather started the clinic 65 years ago as a general dentist dealing with cavities, dentures and prosthetics. Under his father's watch in the 1960's, the clinic began to specialize in orthodontics.

News photoKenichiro Yoshii, the third-generation owner of Yoshii Orthodontic Clinic, talks to The Japan Times at Enjin's offices in Tokyo on Oct. 2. YOSHIAKI MIURA

Orthodontics straightens teeth and corrects patients' bites. In patients' later years it will help prevent gum disease and potential health problems from shifting and tooth loss.

Unfortunately, compared to the U.S., orthodontic treatment seems to be less common in Japan, leaving people with bad teeth alignment. Yoshii thinks this has to do with a lack of understanding of cavities, tooth alignment and prevention. Patients with good dental understanding would want the best treatment using the best materials and would be willing to pay the extra cost, instead of getting basic insurance-covered treatment. "Insurance only covers minimum treatments," he says.

The high cost of orthodontic treatment may make patients reluctant to go through the treatment. "Some people think it's expensive, but many dentists wonder why people will pay a lot of money to go on vacation overseas and not spend the money to fix their teeth. Your teeth are lifelong partners. Children whose parents have high dental IQs tend to have high dental IQs as well."

According to Yoshii, the best age to start orthodontic treatment is around 7 or 8, when people's permanent teeth usually come in. "By looking at an X-ray, we can tell if there are 10 teeth trying to squeeze into a space where there is only room for 7." Early diagnosis and treatment is essential, especially for children, since jaw misalignments can be treated. "For adults, space can't be added or subtracted by stretching or compressing the bones. So unless we perform surgery, the teeth need extraction."

With an increasing number of adults interested in getting orthodontic treatment, Yoshii is often asked whether it is too late for an adult to start treatment. "It can be done at any age," he says. "As long as the person is healthy and by that we mean dentally healthy with no gum disease. So a person can have braces at 70 if they are healthy, but they can't with gum disease even if they are 20."

"Not only does it make it easier to brush your teeth, it is important to have straight teeth since when you bite, about 60 kg of weight is placed on your molars. When that much weight presses on a crooked tooth, it will become more crooked over time and there is a risk of tooth loss," says Yoshii.

The 80-20 campaign, by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, to maintain 20 teeth at age 80 is now shifting to 90-16, meaning 16 teeth at age 90. According to Yoshii, with orthodontic treatment, it is easily possible. Also, patients who've had braces tend to take better care of their teeth, since they had a tough time during treatment.

Yoshii says some patients express concern that braces may be noticeable. However, they quickly realize other people really don't care that much. As you are taking care of your teeth, you should be proud. Also, clear braces or braces placed behind the teeth are also available for those with cosmetic concerns.

Regarding work style, Yoshii tends to be stoic so he tries to make everything flawless and perfect. "I want to make my clinic the No. 1 orthodontic clinic in the world. Since I've chosen this career and take it very seriously, I want my patients to be satisfied. I want to create a model orthodontic clinic."

Yoshii says he is careful to cater to the five senses in his clinic. Hence a pleasant aroma fills the clinic, fresh flowers are delivered on a weekly basis, and the clinic is a clean, polished, sanitary place with regularly waxed floors. As for taste, Yoshii is careful when giving medication not to drop it on the surface of the tongue. The chair is so comfortable that some patients fall asleep to the sound of soothing Hawaiian music.

"I also tell my staff to use their sixth sense. When we are treating a patient and I have to ask for something, it could disturb the patient. I want my staff to think ahead and hand me a tool before I have to ask for it. I want a quiet environment and would like to move smoothly in a coordinated way."

Yoshii closed by saying that famous or well-respected people tend to take care of their appearances and good tooth alignment is part of that. It may even be considered a necessity, so aesthetically, functionally and hygienically we should not neglect our teeth.

This series has been prepared in collaboration with Enjin Co., which produces and operates a video website, kenja.tv, specializing in profiles of up-and-coming Japanese entrepreneurs.