A Government scheme providing limited access to dental care for adult medical card holders has “failed” and must be replaced by a “fundamentally new approach”, the association representing more than 2,000 dentists has said.
The Irish Dental Association (IDA) has warned that the current Dental Treatment Services Scheme (DTSS) for medical card holders does not meet the dental needs of lower-income groups and is “no longer viable”.
The IDA will address the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health on Wednesday afternoon on the scheme, which it said has caused significant “anger and disillusionment” among dentists and has led to a “lifetime of embarrassment, decreased nutrition and loss of wellbeing” for patients who cannot access the dental care they need.
A 36% fall in funding for the scheme since 2017 to €40m last year and falling numbers of participating dentists has meant patients are facing delays in treatment or must travel, or rely on the public service if there are no participating dentists in their area, the IDA said.
“The medical card scheme is on the brink of collapse, affecting 1.5m eligible patients who have seen a significant erosion in their ability to access dental care over the past decade,” IDA chief executive Fintan Hourihan said.
"In 2020, almost one-quarter of participating dentists nationwide left this scheme, which highlights its failings. It is clear that the Government can no longer stand over a scheme which is neither good for patients nor dentists in any respect,” he added.
The IDA said a new scheme is needed and is urging the Government to consider a "co-payment" system similar to that used with the PRSI dental scheme (the Dental Treatment Benefit Scheme), a voucher-based scheme funded by the State for medical card holders, or the expansion of the Med 2 tax relief scheme to include routine dental treatments.
Meanwhile, dentist Dr Lisa Creaven warned that cracked and chipped teeth are significantly on the rise due to pandemic stress and urged patients to adopt stress relief practices to protect their teeth.
The rise in stress-related damage has also been seen in other countries, including the US, where a survey found 60% of dentists reported an increase in cracked and chipped teeth.
“Particularly over the past six months, we have noticed a huge increase in patients with cracked teeth. This is typically stress-related, and a common side effect is people tend to clench or grind their teeth more, which puts a stress on the teeth and can cause them to chip or crack,” Dr Creaven said.
“To avoid stress-related cracked teeth, I recommend daily focus on stress relief in the form of exercise, meditation, and being aware of not clenching during the day. Most people tend to clench their teeth at night, and if so, you may require a nightguard that can be made by your dentist,” she added.