The newly elected president of the Irish Dental Association has said urgent changes are needed within the industry before Ireland reaches a “crisis point”.
Dr Caroline Robins called on the Government to intervene over the medical card scheme, and invest in public dentist recruitment and the training of dental graduates.
The association said dental clinics are unable to deal with the current volume of patients as “recruitment of associate dentists, dental hygienists and dental nurses is at an all-time low”.
Dr Robins said the number of dental students remaining in Ireland after their graduation and training as general dental practitioners (GDPs) has fallen to “crisis levels”.
“Of the 200 dentists who register with the dental council each year, only a fraction of those come from the two dental schools.
“We estimate we need at least 500 graduate dentists per annum to meet the needs of rising population and to replace retiring dentists,” Dr Robins added.
In order to address the shortages, the association has called for the Government to “invest thoroughly across all areas of dentistry”.
The association is also seeking an overhaul of the current medical card (DTSS) scheme, to replace it with a “fit-for-purpose scheme that reflects modern dental practices and standards”.
Fintan Hourihan, the Irish Dental Association’s chief executive, said it is estimated that less than 700 dentists around the country remain on the medical card scheme, which he said is a “testament to the issues within the scheme”.
“Dentists have consistently voiced their concerns regarding the limitations of the scheme, the red tape dentists must follow to treat medical card patients, and the limited materials they can use while treating medical card patients,” Mr Hourihan said.
“What we see now is a two-tier system whereby private patients are subsidising medical card patients, yet medical card patients are not afforded the same treatment plans as private patients.
“Dentists want the autonomy to treat patients as necessary according to their needs,” he added.
The association invited Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to engage with them regarding a reformed scheme, adding that measures announced in April which expanded the number of treatments available to medical card-holders and increased the coverage of costs will “act as no more than a band-aid for the current scheme which is doomed to collapse”.