The Irish Dental Association says there is a backlog of almost 10 years in some parts of the country in accessing the HSE School Dental Screening Service which is staffed by public only dentists.
Primary school children should be having check-ups in second, fourth and sixth class, however, the strain on the system is so much that some children aren’t receiving the first of these three important dental checks until they are in their fourth year of secondary school. This means that some children are not receiving an initial check-up until they are 16 years of age and are therefore missing out on vital early intervention, resulting in more drastic treatment or, in the worst cases, extractions being required during the formative teenage and early adult years
Understaffing and a lack of resources in the public dental service is being blamed for the delays with the numbers of practising public-only dentists having dropped by almost one quarter (23%) in the past 15 years, decreasing from 330 in 2006 to 254 in 2022. This means the HSE will need to hire 76 dentists immediately to the bring the service back to the levels it was at 15 years ago.
The lack of HSE dentists is also impacting on the delivery of care to other vulnerable sections of society including those with special care needs and patients waiting on essential public orthodontic treatment.
There are currently two-year-long waiting lists for treatments requiring General Anaesthetic with dentists saying that they are being forced to choose which children they believe are suffering the most pain and treat them ahead of patients who may have already been waiting months or years.
This, the Irish Dental Association reports, is leading to high levels of stress and burnout among dentists hired by the HSE.
Chief Executive of the Irish Dental Association Fintan Hourihan says:
“It is shameful that children, special care and other vulnerable patients are not receiving the dental care they are entitled to, with many suffering 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. Dentists, however, are reporting seeing older children who are requiring 3 or 4 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.”