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News / May 18, 2010

Oral health progress threatened by HSE cuts

by Guy Hiscott

According to a new publication, The O’Neill Report 2010, in the last 30 years the oral health of Irish citizens has improved, as well as there being a reduction in health inequalities for adults and children.

The report suggests that this positive outcome is the result of a number of factors, including water fluoridation, improved self-care and the contribution made by the dental services in Ireland.

The report also highlights the role the Public Dental Services has played in improving the dental health of children under the age of 16 and the success of the needs-based system that has been in operation to reduce health inequalities.

However, fears have been raised that in the wake of the effective cancellation of the medical card scheme with just 24 hours’ notice, the oral health of the population will be greatly damaged.

Speaking at the Irish Dental Association’s annual scientific conference, chief executive Fintan Hourihan said: ‘The 1.6 million people who are going to suffer most are the people in greatest need of treatment. If a short term, expedient approach is adopted and funding is withdrawn for routine treatments, we will end up paying the price long into the future. Look at the health system today. Even after the Celtic Tiger years we are still paying the price for the cutbacks of the 1980s.’

The report, by Ciaran O’Neill, Professor of Health Technology Assessment at NUI Galway, also found major differences in the state supports available to dentists in the Republic and Northern Ireland.

While dentists in Northern Ireland received the equivalent of approximately 37,000 in practice allowance grants, no such funding was available in the Republic of Ireland. Professor O’Neill suggested that some might view such state support in the North as providing a competitive advantage.

Welcoming the publication of the report, Fintan Hourihan said it was a timely reminder of the progress that has been made in recent years by the profession.

Mr Hourihan commented: ‘This report shows the huge advances that have been made in the oral health of the nation, thanks, in large measure, to the expertise and commitment of dentists in Ireland. These improvements have been achieved in spite of, rather than because of, support from the state.

‘This is graphically illustrated in Professor O’Neill’s research where he contrasts the funding available to dentists in Northern Ireland and doctors in general practice here in the Republic with the complete lack of funding available to dentists.’