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100k children denied dental screening last year

More than 100,000 children were denied primary school screening dental appointments last year, according to the Irish Dental Association (IDA).

It said that despite 208,233 children being eligible for the scheme, only 104,488 were assessed by a public dentist.

A portion of the children were seen for the first time in secondary school.

The association said that Government policy has suggested that primary school children be seen by a dentist in 2nd, 4th and 6th class.

The IDA says the problem is down to a shortage of public dentists, with a 23% fall in public dentist numbers between 2006-2022.

It added that 74 dentists are needed just to get back to 2009 staffing levels.

The association’s Chief Executive Fintan Hourihan said that the HSE was failing in its duty to provide adequate care to patients under the Health Act.

“There is huge uncertainty over the service as the Government appears to be suggesting that children should be seen by private dentists, 90% of whom say the priority should in fact be on rebuilding the public dental service,” he said.

The association is holding its annual conference in Killarney.

In a response to a parliamentary question from Sinn Féin health spokesperson David Cullinane, the HSE said that due to the recruitment embargo, it cannot appoint any dental staff who are not at consultant level.

The incoming chair of the dentists’ general practitioners group said a “golden window of opportunity” is being missed to prevent dental decay in young children because so many are missing their primary school appointments.

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Caroline Robins said dental decay is not like a broken arm as once it sets in it is a lifetime of work.

“There is that moment in time at the beginning when we have that ability to protect those teeth, to prevent further problems and educate parents and children on how best to tell them going forward to look after their teeth,” she said.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland she said the number of children missing primary school dental appointments last year could be even higher than the estimated 100,000.

Ms Robins said that dental schools need significant investment and called on the Government to increase funding and the number of dentists, dental nurses and hygienists that are being trained every year.

In response, the HSE said that children are seen at ages that correspond with dental developmental milestones, to identify opportunities for timely preventive interventions.

It added that an extra 47,806 examinations were undertaken for children who were seen under the emergency dental care programme last year.

The HSE said that the IDA data does not include the provision of dental treatment and/or preventive care provided, following the dental examination.

In this regard, it said that last year, more than 72,000 fillings, 43,000 extractions and 359,000 preventative treatments were provided to patients attending the service.

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