Up to one million patients are postponing dental treatments due to cutbacks to state schemes

Up to one million patients are postponing dental treatments due to cutbacks to state schemes

(29 Nov 2012)

New research shows dental health in crisis.

Up to one million patients are postponing dental treatments due to cutbacks to state schemes.

77% of dentists have seen an increase in patients presenting in pain while 93% have seen an increase in extractions.

Overwhelming majority of dentists say state schemes are now not fit for purpose.

A new survey indicates that up to a million people may have postponed dental treatment in the last year due to Government cuts to patients covered by the two state run dental schemes.

Twenty nine per cent of respondents to the Behaviour & Attitudes survey said they had postponed dental treatment due to restrictions to the Medical Card and PRSI schemes. This would equate to 944,000 of the general population.

In addition one third of respondents – equating to 1.1 million people - said they expected to visit the dentist less frequently from now on due to the cutbacks.

The survey which was carried out on behalf of the Irish Dental Association also found that over 220,000 people have missed time from work or school in the past year with a dental problem.

The head of the IDA’s General Practice Group, Dr Peter Gannon, described the findings as alarming. He said the B & A survey supported the findings of an IDA survey of over 300 dentists which shows dentists have seen a massive increase in the number of patients presenting in pain and in the number of extractions.

“The severe cuts in the PRSI and Medical Card scheme since April 2010* affect 8 out of 10 adults. The simple preventive treatments that were available were key to maintaining good dental health for many people. It is worrying to see such problems so soon and I am concerned that we are returning to the days of extractions and dentures” Dr Gannon said.

The dentists’ survey shows that;

  • 77% of dentists have seen an increase in the number of patients presenting in pain
  • 93% have seen an increase in the number of extractions
  • 91% have seen a decrease in patient attendance
  • 92% have seen an increase in the frequency of gum disease
  • 84% have seen an increase in the number of patients presenting with dental infections

Dr Gannon said the continuing lack of clarity over what people were entitled to, was leading large numbers of people to neglect their dental health and many were only visiting their dentist when forced to do so.

“We know already that dental decay is the most common chronic disease affecting Irish children and these findings indicate that dental decay, gum disease and dental infections are rising across all age groups. It’s clear a ‘silent epidemic’ of dental and oral disease is affecting a significant proportion of the population and this underlines the need for people to prioritise their oral health” Dr Gannon said.

According to the survey dentists view both state schemes as totally ineffective.

Ninety nine per cent of dentists said the PRSI scheme – for which working people pay their own contributions from their salaries – no longer provided adequate preventive treatment for patients.

Ninety eight per cent of dentists said the Medical Card scheme no longer provided adequate preventative treatment for card holders.

Action Required

“Unless the government commits extra resources to both schemes immediately, introduces a National Oral Health Policy and appoints a Chief Dental Officer to the Department of Health all the gains made in previous decades will be wiped out. These findings indicate the true cost of the slash and burn policies the HSE has pursued over the last three years will be a multiple of the very modest savings made on these once cost efficient and effective schemes” Dr Gannon concluded.


Note to Editor

Survey Details

The Behaviour & Attitudes survey of 1,000 people was carried out between the 7th and 21st of November 2012.

The Survey of 312 dentists was carried out between 12th and 23rd of November 2012

*Cutbacks to schemes

The IDA denounced the HSE’s decision in April 2010 to dismantle the Medical Card scheme and to replace it with one which only provided limited emergency cover. The move meant hundreds of thousands of card holders were denied a range of routine treatments including fillings and extractions as well as denture and treatment of gum disease.

The HSE said it would only provide emergency dental care to eligible patients with a focus on relief of pain and sepsis. It said additional care would only be considered in exceptional or high risk cases. The IDA described it as unsafe, unworkable and unethical.

In the 2009 budget the Government announced that from January 2010 people paying PRSI would only be entitled to one free dental check-up and would no longer receive significant discounts on fillings, extractions, root canal work or dentures. At the time the IDA said the Government was making a serious mistake and vowed to fight the cutbacks.