We all hope to have long, enjoyable, and energetic lives, while enjoying food. But what age can we really expect to live to and still remain healthy and happy?
Today, attention is being focused on "healthy life expectancy" rather than just longevity. Statistical data indicates that there is a gap between healthy life expectancy and life expectancy, and the average person can expect to end their life with 10 years of poor health. So how can we shorten this period?
Old age actually begins in the mouth
Our team is working to create an oral self-checkup system called DECARTE. Why pay attention to oral health? Actually, there is a close relationship between oral health and old age. If the function of your mouth declines, muscle weakness and pneumonia caused by accidental swallowing can result, and the adverse effects interact with each other leading to rapid aging of the body. It has been reported that this can also lead to greater risks of dementia and becoming bedridden.*1
Actually, the mouth affects not only aging but also the likelihood of contracting diseases. Poor oral care has been shown to increase the risk of cancer, diabetes, and cerebral infarction. This is a risk that should not be ignored in Japan, one of the world's most elderly nations.
With this in mind, we interviewed about 100 companies, facilities, and medical personnel, as well as other individuals, for their feedback on the DECARTE concept. The DECARTE service can help support awareness of oral health, and enables communication with experts who have already received the images. As it offers the benefit of ongoing oral care, it is highly compatible with the needs of the elderly and home-care dentistry.
"Some of my teeth are already gone, but I want to keep my remaining teeth if I can."
"My teeth are loose, but I want to avoid dentures if possible."
"I want to continue eating with my own teeth."
"Although I should go to the dentist regularly, I'm not able to because the transit is inconvenient, my physical condition is poor, and there are no family members with time to take me."
"Dentures are painful, uncomfortable, cause headaches, feel strange, don't bite together properly, or smell bad."
"I do not want to go the dentist's office, but I would like a dentist to come and see me."
There are many unnoticed people who think this way.
According to statistics*2, the proportion of elderly care recipients who need dental treatment is about 90%. Nevertheless, the proportion of such people who actually visit the dentist is less than 30%. In other words, the majority of these care recipients are not getting dental checkups even though they need them. Although there is the option of home-care dentistry, the available providers cannot meet the demand.
A desire to promote oral health and increase healthy life expectancy
I think there are many people with parents or grandparents who have lost their teeth due to age and have become less energetic as a result. We want to help improve oral health and lengthen healthy life expectancy. That is the motivation behind our proposed service called DECARTE. Even as a new solution, we want the service to feel familiar, and be easy to use on a continual basis. While keeping these things in mind, we looked at who is suffering from poor oral health and who would be able to use the service easily. We also carried out numerous interviews, and facility visits.
- Aug: Business people / pregnant women (35 in Kyoto and Osaka)
- Sep: Dentists at a dental trade show (15 in Sendai)
- Oct: Dental consultants (2 in Osaka); Dentists (4 in Osaka); Dental hygienists (5 in Osaka); and Pregnant women at an event (20 in Yokohama)
- Nov: Home-care dentists (3); Nursing care facilities (2); and University (1 in Osaka)
- Dec: Dentist (1 in Osaka); and University (1 in Fukuoka)
DECARTE team at the event
As you can see from our wide range of interview subjects, the elderly were not our original target. At first, we interviewed businessmen who are too busy to go to the dentist and pregnant women whose periodontal disease puts them directly at risk of giving birth prematurely. With the opportunity to attend a dental trade show, we also focused on interviewing dental practitioners about issues in their practices. By talking to multiple dentists, we were able to receive their valuable opinions concerning trends for different patient age groups and genders, as well as their needs and challenges.
Through this process, we realized that it is the elderly who are often not receiving treatment even though they have the highest necessity for frequent or urgent treatment. First of all, can we make it possible for residents of seniors' facilities such as a serviced housing for the elderly to receive dental treatment at home more comfortably and quickly? By doing this, we could allow people to fully enjoy their meals throughout life and maintain the satisfaction of eating with their natural teeth as long as possible.
During the course of our research, meeting home-care dentists and hygienists who work with seniors became a big turning point in the project. While being impressed by the nature of their work, we also learned that many of these dentists were not always able to provide home treatment despite the need, due to time constraints or lack of personnel.
During our interviews at dentists
What can DECARTE do to improve quality of life?
With our proposed oral self-checkup system, users can easily photograph the inside of their mouth and determine the risk of cavities and periodontal disease on the spot. By uploading the photos users can also share their oral images with a hygienist and family physician. We are looking into the possibility for users to receive even higher quality dental treatment and advice by uploading the images to a dentist. For the future, we are also investigating the use of AI image recognition to provide information to users.
Much like the use of a thermometer to check for fever at home, our dream is for this oral self-checkup system to become a common device for easily ascertaining oral health at home or in facilities. By doing this, we seek to increase awareness of disease prevention, and thereby enhance quality of life for many people and contribute to society as a whole.
Of course, seniors are not the only target for this service. It is also suitable for business people, pregnant women, and baby boomers, who were our original targets. During an interview, one person told me the following.
"When my father was in his forties, he couldn't visit the dentist easily because of work, and he was not able to maintain adequate self-care either. Due to his old-school way of thinking, even when he gets some physical ailment he won't go and see the doctor right away. He also likes alcohol, and would often fall asleep after a few drinks. He is living far away now, and each time he loses a tooth, he seems to be less interested in food and more dejected. So I am more concerned than ever before. If there were something that he could use on a regular basis to support his oral and physical health, I think my father would be more optimistic about maintaining the teeth that he still has. That way he could live a longer and healthier life, which would make me so happy."
These words have helped to motivate us to try and quickly deliver DECARTE to as many people as possible.
Going forward, we would like to offer a service that can help countless people who want to protect their teeth and make them more beautiful. These include working couples with young children who need help caring for their children's teeth, university students who are busy with studies and extracurricular activities, and those interested in aesthetic dental procedures such as teeth whitening or straightening. While there are many unique challenges when undertaking something new, we look forward to overcoming these challenges and reaping the rewards. We intend to do our best, and would be grateful for your support.
*2 Medical Subcommittee Document, 15th Social Security Council, Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare