Dental expert calls for 'use it or lose it' voucher to cover first dental visit for kids

Dental expert calls for 'use it or lose it' voucher to cover first dental visit for kids

All children should visit the dentist by their first birthday according to one of Ireland’s leading dental experts, writes Joyce Fegan.

Dr Eleanor McGovern, a consultant paediatric dental surgeon in Temple Street University Children’s Hospital, has called on the Government to introduce a “use-it- or-lose-it voucher”, whereby parents redeem it before their child’s first birthday.

Dr McGovern was speaking ahead of the Irish Dental Association’s annual conference this weekend and said the scheme would help to massively reduce tooth decay in children.

She said there is significant evidence children should have their first dental visit by their first birthday: “Approximately 50% of children in Ireland have tooth decay by the time they are five years old (HSE oral health research from 2002), yet children are not normally seen through the public HSE dental system until approximately seven years of age. ”

The association estimates the cost of establishing the “use-it-or-lose-it voucher” scheme would be €2m-€3m but believes the savings would far outweigh the initial cost and what is being spent by the State on general anaesthetics for paediatric dental care.

The dental association says that more than 10,000 Irish children are having teeth extracted under general anaesthetic every year.

Award-winning dentist, Dr Gillian Smith, who runs a family practice in Wicklow, says: “Culturally Irish people maybe don’t understand the importance of baby teeth — they feel baby teeth are going to fall out anyway — but they are important.

“Baby teeth hold the space for the adult tooth that is coming up later and if you lose the baby tooth early, the next one doesn’t have enough space to come up properly. The State can often pay for the orthodontics then later on,” she added.

Dr Smith said it is about setting people on a “preventative path” from an early age: “This is the advice I give parents, get your children ‘to spit out not rinse out’ after brushing so you leave a coating of fluoride toothpaste in contact with teeth. Don’t get caught out by hidden sugars such as dried fruits, juices and smoothies.”

She also advises that children wash their teeth twice a day and from the age of two use “full strength adult fluoride toothpaste”.

This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.

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