The national study also found 16% of eight-year-olds have decay in their permanent teeth and the less well-off have poorer oral health. Medical card holders experience more dental decay because of less regular check-ups.
Consultant orthodontist, Cork-based Ian O’Dowling, warned decay in baby teeth would lead in time to orthodontic problems, which were far more expensive to treat.
“These figures are worrying for orthodontists because if the problems remain untreated, they will first lead to abscess and decay and later on, people will face orthodontic treatment for overcrowding and crooked teeth.
"This in turn will drive up our waiting lists. In the Southern Health Board alone, people are waiting up to four years for treatment. ”
The survey, overseen by Dr Helen Whelton and her team at the Oral Health Research Unit in Cork, revealed that eight-year-olds had an average of 0.4 decayed, missing or filled teeth, rising to 1.4 in 12-year-olds.
It also found an average of 47% of eight-year-olds have fissure sealants, an expensive preventative treatment for cavities. This figure rises to 69% in 12-year-olds and to 72% of 12-year-olds in the Eastern Regional Health Authority in contrast to 45% in the North Western Health Board.
The figures were released yesterday by Social Affairs Minister Mary Coughlan to coincide with Colgate Oral Health Month.
During the month, good oral health will be promoted in three ways: an extensive out-reach programme will distribute 300,000 oral care products, a dental professional programme and an in-store promotional campaign.
There will also be an extensive educational programme supporting all activities designed to help consumers understand the factors affecting tooth decay and how to prevent it, as well as a step-by-step guide to achieving better oral health.
The 300,000 oral care products will be distributed to participating schools, breakfast clubs and dental professionals.
Dr Michael Galvin, president of the Irish Dental Association, which is supporting the initiative, said the profession had never been as well prepared to prevent, diagnose and treat dental problems.