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Osaka Univ. crowdfunds to make big dental models for schools for visually impaired people

Two conventional dental models, left, and bigger models for visually impaired people are seen at Osaka University in Suita, Osaka Prefecture, on Nov. 8, 2021. (Mainichi/Satoshi Kondo)

SUITA, Osaka -- Osaka University Graduate School of Dentistry launched a crowdfund Nov. 8 seeking 12 million yen (about $106,000) to make and distribute 130 free dental model sets to schools for visually impaired people and other institutions across Japan.

    The models are twice as big as regular ones, and their teeth alignment can be changed freely. Their hefty size allows dentists to show visually impaired people how to brush their teeth while allowing them to touch the models. Should the crowdfund reach its target, the graduate school says it will start distributing them for free around autumn 2022.

    Osaka University Dental Hospital instructor Jumpei Murakami, right, and Osaka University Dental Technology Institute instructor Keiko Koyagi, center, use a dental model to teach tooth brushing to people with visual impairments at Osaka University in Suita, Osaka Prefecture, on Nov. 8, 2021. (Mainichi/Satoshi Kondo)

    Osaka University Dental Hospital instructor Jumpei Murakami taught Eiji Takada, 46, who has visual impairments and lives in the Osaka Prefecture city of Toyonaka, how to brush his teeth effectively while having him touch a double-sized dental model. Murakami told him: "The tooth here grows inward, so moving your brush vertically will leave fewer parts unbrushed." Takada smiled and said, "I can't understand it explained verbally, but with the large model I could picture my teeth's alignment and how to brush them."

    Osaka University Dental Technology Institute instructor Keiko Koyagi and others made the dental model Murakami uses in 2017. Magnets attached to the bottom of the resin-made teeth mean they can be attached or removed freely to recreate anyone's teeth alignment. Some people with visual disabilities had expressed issues with regular-sized dental models, including that they are "too small," and the new model was made twice as large to ensure it is easier for patients to recognize the teeth by touch.

    While the product was well received by patients with visual impairments who used it, demand is not high enough to justify mass production, thereby presenting difficulties for private companies to do business with them. As a result, the Osaka University team decided to crowdfund and collect money widely.

    Graduate School of Dentistry Dean Satoshi Imazato said at a Nov. 8 news conference at the Osaka University campus in Suita: "We'd like to see broad support for the project so that people with visual impairments can enjoy the benefits of good oral health."

    Osaka University Graduate School of Dentistry Dean Satoshi Imazato, center, Higashiosaka Mayor Yoshikazu Noda, second from right, and others show dental models for visually impaired people at Osaka University in Suita, Osaka Prefecture, on Nov. 8, 2021. (Mainichi/Satoshi Kondo)

    Also in attendance was Yoshikazu Noda, mayor of the city of Higashiosaka which signed a dental engineering partnership agreement with the graduate school in 2019. He said, "This will be a successful case in the dental engineering agreement with Higashiosaka, which is a manufacturing city."

    Donations to the crowdfund will be accepted until Dec. 24 at: https://readyfor.jp/projects/handai-hamokei (in Japanese).

    (Japanese original by Satoshi Kondo, Osaka Science and Environment News Department)

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