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75 per cent of people do not avail of free dental check-ups

The Irish Dental Association has described the slashing of PRSI and medical card schemes and tax reliefs as a “dental health time bomb”.

NEW FIGURES FROM the Irish Dental Association (IDA) show that three out of four people who are entitled to a free dental examination do not avail of the service.

The IDA said cutbacks to the two main dental health schemes and ongoing confusion over people’s entitlements have led to an “alarming deterioration” in the dental health of the population. It also said the HSE’s “failure to explain to people what their entitlements were”, amounted to a dereliction of duty.

The IDA pointed out that a study on perceptions of dental health in seven European countries found that Ireland had the lowest number of adults attending the dentist for routine examinations. Ireland also had the highest number of patients citing cost as a factor preventing attendance at the dentist.

Chief Executive of the IDA, Finta Hourihan, told delegates at the IDA’s annual conference in Galway that the “short-sightedness” of withdrawing several modest benefits from three million patients was already becoming apparent.

“These simple preventive treatments were key to maintaining good dental health for the general population,” he said. “In their absence dentists are seeing a huge increase in dental decay and gum disease. Other problems which may be caused or made worse by poor dental health include heart disease, strokes, diabetes, premature and low birth weight babies and respiratory disease.”

Hourihan said the government and its predecessor has created a “dental health time bomb” by slashing PRSI and medical card schemes, halving tax reliefs for orthodontic and other dental treatments and by reducing the number of dentists and nurses in the public service by 20 per cent over the last two years.

The IDA has recommended a number of “timely and cost-efffective measures” to address the decline in dental health:

  • Introduce a voucher system for annual oral examination
  • Gradually restore benefits to Medical Card and PRSI schemes
  • Restore marginal rate of tax relief
  • End the embargo on recruitment of dentists by the HSE
  • Appoint a Chief Dental Officer (Vacant for the last 20 years)

“We need urgent action,” Hourihan added. “The voucher system would be a good starting point and that’s what we need right now.”

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