The newly-appointed President of the Irish Dental Association, Dr Robin Foyle, has called on the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, to end decades of neglect of oral health which he says has been overseen by successive Governments.
His comments follow a litany of missed deadlines, raids on funding supports for patients and delays in appointing a full-time Chief Dental Officer to help frame a new oral health policy.
Dr Foyle, who’s a Wexford based dentist, told 500 delegates at the IDA’s annual conference in Kilkenny that it was over 23 years since the last oral health policy was published. He said this lack of leadership was symptomatic of an appalling disregard for oral health by the Minister and his predecessors.
“Oral health is undoubtedly suffering, particularly for those who can least afford dental care. The evidence around us is mounting on a daily basis: children faced with large numbers of extractions due to lack of early visits and prevention, increases in the numbers of children requiring treatment under general anaesthesia, increases in the number of patients requiring hospital admissions for dental treatments, noticeable increases in the levels of decay, longer orthodontic waiting lists and falls in the number of regular dental visits.”
The IDA estimates that cuts in funding for the two state funded dental schemes (for eligible PRSI contributors and medical card patients) has seen over half a billion euro taken away from patients towards meeting the costs of their dental care since 2010.
Dr Foyle said that if a significant proportion of the revenue raised from the ‘sugar tax’ was directed towards oral healthcare programmes it could mitigate some of the effects of this outflow.
“Nearly all debates around the sugar tax have focused on the obesity issue and ways of tackling that problem; to the exclusion of all others, including dental health. Dental decay is the most common chronic disease young children experience in Ireland today. This is due in the main to very high levels of sugar consumption including soft drinks. It makes sense that a significant proportion of the monies raised through a sugar tax should be used to support oral health programmes.”
While dentists welcomed the fact that very modest additional funds had been made available to cover an annual dental examination for the self-employed under the PRSI scheme, Dr Foyle said the fact no progress had been made in addressing the staffing crisis in our public dental service was a disgrace.
“The numbers employed by the public dental service has fallen by 20% at the very same time that the numbers of children eligible for treatment rose by 20%. Inevitably this perfect storm has led to the collapse of school screenings and treatment services in many parts of the country. The lack of resources is also putting our members in the public service under intolerable strain.”
Dr Foyle said he would be seeking an early meeting with Minister Harris where he hoped a clear timetable for addressing these issues could be agreed.