Yohei Akiyama, a 42-year-old dental hygienist in the city of Kagoshima, smiles wryly when patients mistakenly call him doctor. It has become a familiar episode for Akiyama since he became the first "male hygienist" in Kyushu 10 years ago.

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry’s 2020 statistics, there are only 91 male dental hygienists in Japan, or just 0.06% of the 142,760 registered hygienists across the nation.

The probability of encountering one as a patient is close to the rate of winning the top prize in the year-end “jumbo” lottery. In Kyushu, only eight men work as dental hygienists, making them extremely rare.