Newly elected President of the Irish Dental Association calls on Government to enact sweeping reforms in Dentistry before we reach crisis point

Newly elected President of the Irish Dental Association calls on Government to enact sweeping reforms in Dentistry before we reach crisis point

(13 May 2022)
  • The Irish Dental Association has called on the Government to reform the medical card (DTSS) scheme and replace it with a fit-for-purpose scheme that reflects modern dental practices and standards
  • Recruitment and retention of dentists is at an all time low, and investment in Irish dental schools is urgently needed. 
  • Dr Caroline Robins comment: “We need the Government to intervene in the recruitment and retention of public dentists and to invest in the training of dental students immediately before we reach a crisis in dentistry”

Newly elected President of the Irish Dental Association (IDA), Dr Caroline Robins, has called on the Irish Government to urgently push through sweeping reforms within Irish dentistry before the profession reaches crisis point.

Dr Robins’ comments come in advance of the Irish Dental Association AGM, which takes place on Thursday (12 May).  The AGM is expected to include motions relating to both the reform of the Dentists Act and the Irish Medical Card Scheme, to prevent dentists leaving the scheme in even greater numbers.


According to Dr Robins,” The pressure from dental patients will not and cannot be relieved until proper investment is made. We need the Government to intervene in the medical card scheme, public dentist recruitment and the training of dental graduates immediately before we reach crisis levels.

“Dental practices are unable to deal with the volume of patients that are arriving to their clinics, and recruitment of associate dentists, dental hygienists and dental nurses is at an all-time low.

“Of the 200 dental graduates annually, the two dental schools only provide a fraction of the dentists who newly register with the dental council each year. We estimate we need at least 500 extra dentists immediately to meet the needs of rising population and to replace retiring dentists. We in the Irish Dental Association has called on the Government to invest thoroughly across all areas of dentistry, but particularly in the UCC dental school which has needed to be expanded for many years now and for them to fund the much needed dental school.”

The event, which is taking place in person for the first time in two years, will feature an inaugural address by President elect Dr Caroline Robins, whose speech will outline her priorities and those of the wider dental profession as she begins her tenure as president.

Fintan Hourihan, CEO of the Irish Dental Association, will also speak at the AGM, addressing amongst other issues, the reform of the DTSS/medical card scheme, the Dentists Act and the future resourcing of dentists by the HSE.

Staffing our clinics

Addressing the immediate issue of industry wide staff shortages, Dr Robins said: “We need to be able to staff our clinics to meet the needs of our patients and to offer the best care we can possibly give to them. But we also need to plan into the future and consideration for future patient needs is not being conducted whatsoever. We need an urgent review of the training of dentists to mitigate for the ultimate mismatch of patients to dentists.

“The two dental schools, in UCC and TCD, do not produce an adequate number of dentists to meet patient demands. The dental school in Cork has been long promised but not delivered leading to further anxiety for patients seeking dental care. Without investment in our future, Irish dentistry will suffer the consequences and the patients will be burdened the most by poor forward planning.”

A Two-Tier System

According to Irish Dental Association CEO, Fintan Hourihan," The Irish Dental Association commissioned an independent paper by Professor Ciaran O’Neill, Professor of Health Economics at Queen’s University Belfast, that would completely modernise our current medical card scheme. We estimate less than 700 dentists remain on the scheme, a testament to the issues within the scheme.

“We have consulted the HSE and Department of Health officials in recent months to pursue the development of a totally new medical card scheme, one that meets the needs of both dentists and patients.

“Dentists have consistently voiced their concerns regarding the limitations of the scheme, the red tape dentists must follow to treat medical card patients, and the limited materials they can use while treating medical card patients.

“What we see now is a two-tier system whereby private patients are subsidising medical card patients yet medical card patients are not afforded the same treatment plans as private patients. Dentists want the autonomy to treat patients as necessary according to their needs.

“We invite the Minister for Health to engage with the Association and dentists to discuss and understand the value dentists can offer medical card patients through a wholly reformed scheme. We acknowledge the changes made in recent weeks by the Minister however we informed his officials that the changes will act as no more than a band-aid for the current scheme which is doomed to collapse.”

Other speakers include:

Professor Bob Khanna (Professor of Facial Aesthetics at University of Seville and UK TV personality) on the art of creating aesthetically pleasing profiles.
Dr Jennifer Collins (general dental practitioner, Dublin) and Dr Gillian Smith (general dental practitioner, Co Wicklow) on how to remove barriers to help autistic patients better access dental care.
Dr Grace Kelly (Cardiff University School of Dentistry) on managing dental anxiety among patients in general dental practice.
Dr Slaine McGrath (general dental practitioner, London) on the role of social media in dentistry.
Dr Jennifer McCafferty (paediatric dentist, Cork) on managing and treating child patients and various techniques to restore teeth over extraction.
Professor Mike Lewis (Professor of Oral Medicine, Cardiff University) on anti-microbial resistance and primary care management.