“The HSE has effectively overseen the introduction of dental apartheid for the 37% of the population who have a medical card,” said Fintan Hourihan, chief executive of the Irish Dental Association.
The IDA commissioned a study which found, since 2009, surgical extractions increased by 53% and routine extractions by 14%.
Over the same period, fillings fell by over a third.
Under the Dental Treatment Services Scheme, medical card holders over 16 years of age are entitled to a free dental examination and two fillings in each calendar year as well as any extractions that are required.
Dentists said despite a 17% increase in the number of eligible patients, the number of treatments was down 20%.
They blame unilateral cuts to the scheme the HSE imposed in 2010, without informing or consulting patients, dentists or the IDA.
At the association’s conference in Galway yesterday, Mr Hourihan said dentists wanted the medical card and pay-related social insurance schemes merged into one universal programme.
Due to cuts in preventative treatments, the number of medical card patients forced to use antibiotics for prolonged periods had increased, he said.
There had been a 38% increase in the number of people with severe dental infections needing to be admitted to hospital since the cuts were made.
Responding, the HSE said it provided a budget of €75m to deliver the service.
It said all high risk and vulnerable adults were entitled to a broader range of treatments.
It said that a decrease in fillings and extractions in the last two years might be partly due to ongoing improvements in oral health, as had been observed elsewhere.
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