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News / April 19, 2013

Irish patients ignoring free dental check-ups

by Guy Hiscott

Around three quarters of Irish patients entitled to free dental exams are not taking advantage of them, the Irish Dental Association (IDA) has claimed.

The figures were announced at the Association’s national conference in Galway yesterday, as the IDA blamed cutbacks and ongoing patient confusion for a huge deterioration in the oral health of Irish patients.

The IDA’s chief executive, Fintan Hourihan claimed that the HSE’s failure to explain to patients what they are entitled to amounted to a ‘dereliction of duty’.

The IDA also made reference to a recent European study on dental health, which found that Ireland has the lowest number of adults attending the dentist for routine examinations. Ireland also has more patients blaming cost for not attending more regularly.

Mr Hourihan slammed the short-sightedness of withdrawing benefits from three million patients, pointing to an increase in rates of oral disease across the country.

He said: ‘These simple preventive treatments were key to maintaining good dental health for the general population. In their absence dentists are seeing a huge increase in dental decay and gum disease.

‘Other problems which may be caused or made worse by poor dental health include heart disease, strokes, diabetes, premature and low birth weight babies and respiratory disease.

‘By slashing the PRSI and Medical Card schemes, by halving tax reliefs for orthodontic and other dental treatments and by reducing the number of dentists and nurses in the public service by 20% over the last two years – leading to longer and longer waiting lists – this government and its predecessor has created a dental health time bomb which will have huge repercussions for the population as a whole in coming years.’

The IDA has recommended a number of measures that it believes could arrest the decline in oral health. It believes the government should:
• Introduce a voucher system for annual oral examination
• Gradually restore benefits to Medical Card and PRSI schemes
• Restore marginal rate of tax relief
• End the embargo on recruitment of dentists by the HSE
• Appoint a Chief Dental Officer (a post vacant for the last 20 years).