A leading representative of the Irish Dental Association has said that young teenagers - a group which displays alarming levels of dental disease - are being failed miserably by HSE dental cuts.
Dr. Padraig Halvey, the newly elected leader of the public service dentist group, told an IDA conference in Galway that the plight of young teenagers with dental disease was being exacerbated by the HSE’s failure to meet its obligations to children under 16.
The Public Dental Service has responsibility for the dental health of children up to age 16 and for all special care patients, both children and adults.
Figures from the IDA show that half of all 12 year olds have decay in their permanent teeth and this rises to three quarters of all 15 year olds. Dental decay is now the most common chronic disease children experience in Ireland.
“We are seeing extremely high rates of dental decay among young teenagers but these young people are falling through the gaps of a Public Dental Service which has been starved of resources. If a 14 year old presents at a clinic with a dental problem he or she will receive emergency treatment for that specific issue. However they might also require multiple fillings but there is no possibility in most clinics that they will be recalled for that. The reason for that is the lack of resources and the overwhelming workload public dentists face every day” he said.
Dr Halvey, who is based in Letterkenny, Co Donegal, also pointed out that while a lot of children in this position had medical cards, they were not entitled to receive treatment under the Medical Card system (DTSS) because patients had to be 16 to be eligible for the limited treatments available under that scheme.
“Young teenagers are basically in limbo. The failure to provide timely treatment and screening of simple problems or early onset of dental disease causes severe deterioration which then requires complex remedial treatments such as crowns or implants which the state services often cannot provide and many people cannot afford.There’s lots of talk now about the upcoming Children’s referendum, but is this any-way to treat young people at a very sensitive time in their development?” Dr Halvey asked.
The 350 public service dentists see over 250,000 children every year. In addition they care for some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups in our society; the elderly and young people in the care of the HSE, those with intellectual, physical and special needs etc.
Dr Halvey told the 120 delegates attending the conference in Galway that the staff shortages meant that the waiting lists for oral surgery and orthodontics are getting longer all the time while primary school screenings are being delayed or simply not being carried out in some areas.
“On the one hand we are losing colleagues with lifetimes of hard-earned skill and experience to retirement. On the other we are exporting enthusiastic young graduates, the very future of the profession. As a country we will pay a high price for not availing of the services of both these valued groups” Dr Halvey concluded.
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