Some 16,000 children missed their school dental screening last year, because of staff shortages and public clinic closures.
HSE dental surgeons, who also blamed a lack of policy and direction, said their ability to provide an effective service was being undermined.
They fear the public dental service is on the brink of collapse.
Because dental problems are not being identified early, thousands of children, at an average age of six, are undergoing painful operations every year under general anaesthetic, including extractions.
Chief executive of the Irish Dental Association, Fintan Hourihan, who spoke at the HSE dentists’ annual seminar in Athlone yesterday, said that in some parts of the country the number of extractions for children was on a par with the number of fillings.
“The average age for children to undergo extractions under general anaesthetic is six, while some children as young as two require this treatment.
“Some children are having more than nine teeth extracted.”
Mr Hourihan said the population of under-16s has increased by 20%, to 1.1m, but the number of dentists in the public service charged with looking after their oral health has dropped by 20%, because of a recruitment embargo.
That dentists in some areas are pulling almost as many children’s teeth as they are filling is a stark example of how bad the situation has become, he said.
Calling on the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, to intervene immediately, Mr Hourihan said the situation in Laois/Offaly was “simply shocking”.
In Laois, last year, dentists carried out 1,200 extractions and 1,800 fillings, and, in Offaly, they performed 915 extractions and 1,100 fillings.
“We believe this is a direct result of the collapse of the school screenings in these areas, as children in these counties are not being seen until they are in the first year in secondary school,” said Mr Hourihan.
In Laois, the number of under-16s has increased by 40%, since 2002, but the number of public health dentists has fallen by 42% since 2008.
“Figures for six community care areas, for which exact numbers are available, show that almost 16,000 primary school children missed their school screening last year,” he said.
Mr Hourihan said a partial screening service, at best, was on offer in most other counties.
“In addition, dental clinics are being closed down — two have been closed in Clondalkin, in West Dublin, recently, which is leading to ever-lengthening waiting lists,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Irish Medical Organisation has published its list of pre-Budget demands, which includes the immediate reversal of fee cuts, a new GP contract that extends the range of services, and more acute hospital beds.
IMO president Dr John Duddy said eight key budget recommendations involved more spending, but such investment was needed after years of austerity.
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