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'Use it or lose it’ vouchers should be considered for lower income groups' dental needs, says dentists

Dentists will warn TDs and senators that the State’s dental scheme for medical card holders is on the “brink of collapse”.

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REDUCTION IN SPENDING is resulting in large numbers of patients no longer accessing the dental care they require to maintain their dental health”, according to the Irish Dental Association.

The Oireachtas Committee on Health will be told today that a “new approach” to address the dental needs of lower income groups in Ireland is urgently needed.

The association will tell members that the current failed model as exemplified by the Dental Treatment Services Scheme (DTSS) is” no longer viable”.

The scheme provides access to limited dental treatment for adult medical card holders, such as a dental examination, two fillings in each calendar year, and extractions as necessary.

Total spending on the scheme has fallen from over €63 million in 2017 to €40 million in 2020.

The committee will hear that the number of DTSS contracts held by dentists nationwide has fallen by 31% between 2015 and 2020, from 1,847 to below 1,200 at present.

Due to this drop-off in funding and dentists’ participation, the association says medical card patients are now faced with significant delays when they are seeking treatment. 

Patients on medical cards also face increased travel times due to the numbers of dentists that can avail of, the dentists will say today, while also highlighting that the public dental service is considerably underfunded to deal with the demand it faces.

The scheme has caused significant “anger and disillusionment” among dentists, and has led to a “lifetime of embarrassment, decreased nutrition and loss of wellbeing” for patients across Ireland who cannot access the dental care they need, the committee will hear.

Fintan Hourihan, Chief Executive of the IDA, will state today that change was desperately needed for the good of patients.

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“The medical card scheme is on the brink of collapse, affecting 1.5 million eligible patients who have seen a significant erosion in their ability to access dental care over the past decade.

“The pandemic has highlighted the complete inadequacies of this scheme, with an unprecedented number of dentists withdrawing because they cannot afford to participate.”

The IDA believes that new models of access need to be examined, such as a co-payment system similar to that used with the PRSI dental scheme, which falls under the Dental Treatment Benefit Scheme, whereby a small monetary payment is made for the likes of check  ups and cleaning for those that have enough PRSI contributions. 

The association will also suggest ‘use it or lose it’ vouchers funded by the state to encourage greater attendance of patients for dental examinations and possibly other preventative treatments by agreement with dentists. 

Dentists also believe the expansion of the tax relief scheme should be considered to include routine dental treatments.

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