Dentists fear young children will be left “with the worst of both worlds” under the Government's plan to allow free dental care for under-sixes.
Chief executive of the Irish Dental Association (IDA), Fintan Hourihan, said what was proposed in the budget was a move away from the existing HSE school dental service to general practise.
“Moving from a risk-based, targeted public dental service model to a system where children are seen if they attend private dental practices is very problematic,” he said.
Mr Hourihan said that only one in three adults currently availed of free dental examinations.
The proposed introduction of free dental care for under-sixes will not come into effect until September next year.
However, the IDA believes the timeline is unrealistic.
It had written to the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, asking him to reaffirm his commitment to examining alternative models to those which he has proposed.
In the meantime, it wants the existing HSE school dental service to be rebuilt.
Over the last decade, the number of dentists in the service fell by 20% as the number of eligible children increased by 20%.
The IDA is concerned that the current erosion of the HSE public dental service is being accelerated following the publication of the new policy.
“This will leave children with the worst of both worlds in terms of access to dental care,” said Mr Hourihan.
Meanwhile, the Irish College of General Practitioners says expanding free GP care to under-eights will be “challenging” with the current shortage of GPs and under-resourced community supports.
ICGP medical director, Dr Tony Cox, said they supported the principle of universal access to primary care for all patients but did not have enough GPs to meet the “explosion” in demand.
“There is an urgent need to increase the GP and practice nurse workforce, and resource primary care appropriately,” said Dr Cox.