Ireland facing an oral health crisis: Irish Dental Association

Ireland facing an oral health crisis: Irish Dental Association

New CSO statistics reveal that the number of HSE funded treatments under the Dental Treatment Service Scheme have fallen by over 16% between 2013 and 2016.

The Irish Dental Association (IDA) have said the figures show the shocking impact of cuts in state funding for dental care and emphasise the dire need for an emergency plan to address Ireland’s oral health crisis.

IDA chief executive, Mr Fintan Hourihan, has revealed that in recent weeks the Association had written to the Taoiseach and other Government Ministers urging an urgent cross departmental approach to dealing with the real oral health crisis we face, evidence for which is now becoming apparent with greater regularity.

"Today’s CSO report shows that the number of dental treatments provided to medical card patients fell by 16% between 2013 and 2016 even though the number of eligible patients increased by 17% between 2009 and the start of 2016*. Worryingly, the report shows also that curative treatments (such as extractions, fillings and dentures) significantly outnumber preventative treatments.

"This worrying trend is also consistent with studies which show a 38 per cent increase in patients admitted to hospitals for severe infections caused by dental decay and CSO statistics which show that households have dramatically decreased their spending on dental treatment, from an average of €197 in 2010 to €84.53 in 2015.

Mr Hourihan also pointed to the fact that state support for dental treatment, through PRSI and medical card schemes, had fallen from a high of almost €150 million in 2009 to less than €75 million last year.

"Following the economic collapse in 2009, entitlements to treatment, under the PRSI Dental Treatment Benefit Scheme, were severely cut. Workers had been entitled to a free check-up and cleaning, as well as subsidised gum cleaning, fillings, extractions, root canal treatments, X-rays and denture work. After the 2009 budget, only the free examination was retained and workers were required to pay for the cost of all other treatments.

"In 2010, the medical card Dental Treatment Services Scheme was also cut back. Entitlements to cleaning, gum cleaning and X-rays were suspended, root canal treatment could only be performed on an emergency basis and only on front teeth, denture work was only allowed on an emergency basis and people could only have two fillings per year. But extractions, the cheapest of dental pain remedies, could still be performed on an unlimited basis."

The IDEO ceo went on to reveal that while the under 16 population has increased by 20% over the past decade to 1.1m, the number of dentists in the Public Dental Service charged with looking after their oral health has dropped by 20% due to recruitment restrictions.

"Staff shortages, clinic closures and a lack of policy and direction by the HSE are putting an intolerable burden on the Public Dental Service and are undermining its ability to provide an effective service," he said.

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