‘Tooth Memorial’ Held for 50 Years in Saga Prefecture Transcends TimeBringing smiles to children through Tooth Fairy project

Photo of members of the Ogi-Taku Dental Association
Members of the Ogi-Taku Dental Association

The Tooth Fairy project is being carried out jointly by the Japan Dental Association and The Nippon Foundation, using discarded gold and silver used in dental procedures and collected by dentists across Japan, and converting it into cash that is used for various activities that contribute to society. The project was launched in 2009, and as of April 27, 2023, it had close to 7,000 participating dental clinics and had raised more than 2.2 billion yen.

Last summer, the project received a large donation of 6,574,666 yen from the Ogi-Taku Dental Association, who had half of a bucket of metal that they had collected and exchanged into cash for the donation. We asked Dr. Tsutomu Kinoshita, president of the Ogi-Taku Dental Association, how they came upon this large collection of caps, implants, and other metal.

‘Tooth memorial’ custom has deep roots in Ogi and Taku cities in Saga Prefecture

The cities of Ogi and Taku are in central Saga Prefecture on Japan’s southwest island of Kyushu, and the “Tooth Memorial” is held at a local temple in the mountains north of Ogi, which is next to Saga City. Taku was a prosperous mining town with a coal mine that began operating in the mid-Edo Period (1603-1867), but with the mine’s closure in 1972 the population has gradually decreased and become older

Photo of Ogi and Taku cities taken from nearby Mt. Tenzan
View of Ogi and Taku cities from nearby Mt. Tenzan

The local dental association holds seminars, offers administrative support, and is engaged in other activities to support local medical care. One of those activities is the Tooth Memorial, which has been taking place for more than 50 years and is rare even in Japan. Dr. Kinoshita explains,

“June 4 is known as Cavity Prevention Day (Mushiba Yobo Day, or ‘cavity prevention day,’ a play on pronunciations of the numbers six (mu) and four (shi)) in Japan, and the week of June 4 is designated as Dental Hygiene Week. Every year at around this time, the custom is to hold a memorial for the local dentists who previously worked in the area but have passed away, along with teeth extracted during dental procedures. The custom began around 1968, and in 1977 a local Buddhist temple allowed a memorial tower for the teeth to be erected on its premises. Every June, the dentists of the dental association bring the teeth they have extracted during the previous year to the tower, where they are laid out, incense is burned, and they are placed in a box in the tower.”

This custom has been going on since before Dr. Kinoshita and most local dentists have been practicing, and creates a sense of connection with previous generations of dentists as well as among the association’s current members.

Photo of the tooth memorial tower
The tooth memorial tower at a local temple

Storage box fills after 45 years

In 2022, a problem arose; the storage box that had been used for 45 years had become full. It was then that Dr. Kinoshita thought of the Tooth Fairy project, in which the local dental association had been participating since the project’s launch, before Dr. Kinoshita became the association’s president. He explains, “There were quite a lot of teeth, and we realized that many of them were metal or had metal attached. In a sense, these were the property of the association’s member dentists who had brought them there. A meeting was held, and a resolution was made and easily passed to donate them to the Tooth Fairy project.”

On a sunny summer day, Dr. Kinoshita and several younger dentists climbed to the temple, laid out the 45 years’ worth of teeth on a plastic tarp, and sorted them one by one. This took about three hours, and the teeth that were metal or had metal attached filled about half of a bucket. Instead of sending the teeth to the Tooth Fairy project, they arranged to have them exchanged for cash. The amount came to 6,574,666 yen, which was donated to the Tooth Fairy project by the Ogi-Taku Dental Association.

Photo of a person removing the teeth from the storage box
Removing the teeth from the storage box
Photo of the teeth being sorted
Sorting the teeth

Connecting thoughts across time and space

Donations made to the Tooth Fairy project are used to contribute to society in a variety of ways, including the building of schools in Myanmar and to support children in Japan who have serious illnesses or disabilities.

Photo of children and adults in front of a newly built school in Myanmar
The opening ceremony of a school built with Tooth Fairy donations
Photo of children playing on playground equipment
The donation also provided playground equipment that the children immediately enjoyed

When Dr. Kinoshita looked at pictures from the construction of a school in Myanmar, he shared the following thoughts.

“I’m sure this will make the dentists as well as the patients who had their teeth removed happy. Most of the time, having a tooth removed is a very unpleasant experience. But those teeth that had to be removed have brought smiles to children, which is the best way of honoring them.

Looking at these pictures, I am very happy to see that an activity of our dental association has resulted in a school being built overseas. We have high hopes for the Tooth Fairy project going forward, and will do what we can to support its activities.”

About the Tooth Fairy project

The Tooth Fairy project is jointly operated by the Japan Dental Association and The Nippon Foundation and seeks to contribute to society. Metals used in dental procedures and as implants are recycled, and the money raised is used to support children. Close to 7,000 dental clinics participate in the project, which has raised more than 2.2 billion yen (as of May 15, 2023).

These donations are being used for the Challenge Kids project, which supports children in Japan with serious illnesses and their families, and school projects that include the building of schools in Myanmar.


Public Relations Team
The Nippon Foundation

  • Email: cc@ps.nippon-foundation.or.jp