School dental screening services for children here are “virtually non-existent” the Irish Dental Association has said, with backlogs of almost ten years in some parts of the country.
It says children who should be receiving three check-ups in primary school are not being seen now until fourth year in secondary school, and that some are then facing numerous extractions and even root canal treatment in their teens or early adulthood as a result of the delay.
The association has blamed understaffing and a lack of resources for the delays, pointing to a 22% fall in the number of public-only dentists since 2006, from 330 to 254.
It has urged the HSE to hire 76 dentists immediately in order to bring the schools screening service back to the level it was at 15 years ago.
It also says a two-year-long waiting list for treatments requiring general anaesthetic means dentists are being forced to choose which children they believe are suffering the most pain in order to treat them ahead of patients who may have already been waiting months or years.
It says this is leading to high levels of stress and burnout among dentists.
Chief Executive of the Irish Dental Association Fintan Hourihan has described as “shameful” the fact that children, special care and other vulnerable patients are not receiving the dental care they are entitled to.
He said many would suffer unnecessarily later in life as a result.
“The simple solution is to adequately staff and resource our Public Dental Service. Too many children are slipping through the cracks, despite all the evidence showing that the younger a child is when they are first examined, the less likely the need for major treatment or extractions later,” he said.
“Dentists, however, are reporting seeing older children who are requiring three or four extractions and root canal treatment. This cannot be allowed to continue.
“We are urging the Government to address this as a critical priority to ensure children are receiving the care they are entitled to under our public dental system and at the earliest opportunity to save them from unnecessary and drastic treatments later.”
Dentists who work in the public service are meeting in Portlaoise today to discuss these and other issues at a gathering organised by the Irish Dental Association.