Irish people are paying too high a price for their dental care, it was claimed today.
Competition in dental services is restricted and discouraged by an outdated system of regulation and by rules imposed by dentists, a consumer watchdog said.
The Competition Authority has made a number of recommendations to free-up the market and reduce costs, including informing consumers of prices and increasing the number of practitioners nationwide.
Bill Prasifka, Chairperson of the Competition Authority, said: “Consumers are paying too much for dental services in Ireland.
“This is not surprising given the rules that are currently in place.
“Consumers are in the dark when it comes to shopping around for a dentist.
“Why shouldn’t dentists advertise and compete on the same terms as any other business?
“The Competition Authority is calling for significant reform which places the interests of consumers before those of the profession,” he said.
The organisation said the regulatory system governing dental services in Ireland is urgently in need of reform.
Practitioners are not allowed to advertise their prices, offer discounts or canvass for each other’s customers, the authority highlighted in its final report on competition in dental services.
These restrictions stem from the Dentists Act 1985 and from the rules of the Dental Council, which the Competition Authority said is largely composed of dentists.
It also found the number of dentists and orthodontists being trained in Ireland has not kept pace with growing demand.
The body has set out 12 recommendations to free-up the market and improve competition.
These include ensuring patients are informed of the dental service prices, are aware of their entitlements and that a sufficient supply of dentists and orthodontists is rolled out across the country.
While almost 80% of people in the country are entitled to a free dental exam and clean annually, only 44% visit a dentist each year.
“The recommendations are designed to promote and enhance competition in dental services so that consumers get value for money while at the same time their health and safety is protected,” Mr Prasifka said.