Brushing Your Teeth or 歯を磨く (pronounced ‘Haw-omee-gaku’)


The Japanese have an incredible talent for transforming the mundane into something so specialised that it makes the rest of the world scratch its head.

Take, for instance, their knack for folding paper – Origami (or Kirigami if they decide to wield scissors). It’s like they’re turning paper into magical creatures before our eyes.

But there’s more! Beyond the mesmerising paper-folding wizardry, there’s a whole world of Japanese skills that fly under the Western radar.

Back in the 1860s, Japanese art burst onto the global stage, changing the game and inspiring the Impressionist movement in Europe and America. Suddenly, everyone was buzzing about the unique styles of Japanese architecture and religious sculptures.

It’s like Japan had been hiding an artistic treasure trove, and when they finally unveiled it, the West was left in awe, wondering what other hidden talents they were secretly harbouring.

  • Shodo (painting with a small brush), 
  • Ukiyo-e (wood block printing), 
  • Manga (the dark comic strips), 
  • Bonseki (miniature landscape gardens of sand and stones), 
  • Sensu (folding fans used in rituals and dances), 
  • Maki-e (luxury lacquerware decorated with gold or silver), 
  • Amigurumi (knitting or crocheting small stuffed animals), 
  • Chochin (collapsible bamboo lanterns), 
  • Temari (embroidered silk balls), 
  • Irezumi (rich tattoos originally to mark criminals), 
  • Byobu (folding screens), 
  • Gyotaku (printed images of fish caught by fishermen), 
  • Samurai Masks (designed to protect the face and strike fear into the heart of an opponent), 
  • Netsuke (hand-crafted sculptures), and of course their martial art 
  • Karate (meaning “empty hand”)
  • Hamigaki is the Japanese art of toothbrushing, a subject that is taken very seriously (as it should!).

Japan:  A recent Japanese national survey of dental disease reported that the prevalence of gum disease (4mm pocket depth or more) among young people aged 15 – 24 was 17.6%. The prevalence of gum disease increased with age, and the prevalence was more than 50% at age 50.

USA: Not an exact comparison but 47.2% of all adults aged 30 years and older have some form of gum disease. Gum disease increases with age – 70.1% of adults 65 years and older have gum disease.

UK: In the UK more than 45% of adults in the UK are currently being affected by gum disease which has the potential to seriously impact their quality of life. 10% are living with the most severe form, which is the most likely to cause pain and even tooth loss.

Europe:  Europe didn’t do well either!  The European Region had the highest prevalence of major oral disease cases (50.1 per cent of the adult population) across all six WHO regions worldwide. This includes the highest prevalence of caries of permanent teeth

  • The region had the highest proportion of tooth loss cases (25.2 per cent), about 88 million people aged 20 years or over. This translates to a prevalence of 12.4 per cent, the highest among the WHO regions and nearly double the global prevalence of 6.8%
  • The region also had the second highest estimated number, among the WHO regions, of new cases of oral cancers, at almost 70 000 – accounting for 18.5 per cent of the total estimated number of cases globally. More than 26 500 deaths in the Region were attributable to oral cancers in 2020.
  • Of the European Region’s 53 countries, 34 (66.7 per cent) did not have a national oral health policy. 
  • Eleven countries (23.4 per cent) did not have dedicated staff for oral diseases in the noncommunicable diseases department of the ministry of health.

 Back to Japan…….this website is a gem and takes us into the world of brushing teeth in Japan. It includes:

  • the original brushes made from ox bone a horsehair
  • the use of toothpicks
  • tooth cleaning songs for children
  • toothbrushing as a family bonding exercise
  • toothbrushing in class

Fascinating insights, apart from of course the recommendation to use a toothpaste containing fluoride!

If you follow along with the Hamigaki song (and there are others too) at least you will have spent 2:44 mins brushing your teeth instead of the western average of 45 seconds!

If you want to give your teenagers an incentive to spend longer brushing their teeth, try a musical approach that appeals to them

Green Day Pulling Teeth (2:31)

Lorde White Teeth Teens (3:34)    

Megadeth  Skin O’ My Teeth (3:53)

Dr Elmar Jung

Dr. Elmar Jung
Dr. Elmar Jung

PS If you think I missed out Bonsai from the list of Japanese skills above, Bonsai originated in China.  Although the word ‘Bon-sai’ is itself Japanese, the art of growing dwarf trees in small containers originated in China by 700 AD. 

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