Shauna is 16 and needs some fillings. But HSE cuts mean it will only pay to have 14 of her teeth extracted instead
Published 03/12/2011 | 05:00
A TEENAGE girl faces having 14 teeth needlessly extracted because drastic cutbacks forbid dentists from giving her fillings, the Irish Independent has learned.
Shauna Murphy (16) could have a lifetime of dentures ahead of her if the extractions proceed.
The schoolgirl is among thousands of medical card holders who are now falling victim to swingeing cuts in dental care.
They are limited to just two "emergency" fillings a year if they are in pain -- under a restricted list of treatments imposed last year that dentists must comply with.
This means dentists are left with no option but to remove rows of teeth that could easily be saved if the ban on fillings was lifted.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) has set a budget cap of €63m for dental care of medical card holders.
It has cancelled a range of treatments except for high-risk people such as cancer patients.
Shauna, a fifth-year student from Dunlavin in Co Wicklow, is deeply upset at the prospect of losing most of her teeth.
"I cannot bear to wear dentures at my age. I am in constant pain and missing school and my father is not working so we cannot afford private treatment," she said.
"I don't think anyone my age would want to wear dentures. They definitely would not suit me."
Shauna suffers from inflammation of the gums and cavities but only three of her teeth need to be extracted and all the others could be filled.
However, the HSE is insisting that most of the affected teeth be extracted due to its 'two fillings-a-year' limit.
It will not fund any of the additional fillings recommended by her dentist.
Her dentist, James Turner of Baltinglass, Co Wicklow, said: "I have made out a treatment plan which would save most of Shauna's teeth. The bill would come to €892.57 whereas the HSE's (plan) would cost €1,138.30. We can do as many extractions as we want under the rules but this is very distressing for patients."
Shauna's predicament is shared by many other medical card holders nationwide.
The Irish Dental Association said it was shocked when told patients could only have two fillings a year as part of emergency treatment and otherwise must have teeth extracted.
"If they are in a high-risk category and need to go for chemotherapy they are entitled to other treatments but these need to be approved by the HSE," Mr Turner said.
"The approval should be with us in 28 days but it can be six weeks and cancer patients cannot wait."
He said if Shauna did not agree to have the teeth extracted, and could not pay for the fillings, the teeth would decay further.
"She will experience periods of severe pain, swelling and infection. Repeated antibiotics will be prescribed by her GP. It will go dormant for a while but then get bad again," he said.
"Shauna is from another generation and does not want dentures. She will put up with the pain but it is wholly unacceptable."
Mr Turner said he was finding that most of the patients in his early morning clinics were emergencies.
"We are now extracting teeth which before the cuts could be saved. Medical card patients are no longer entitled to a cleaning so teeth are loosening."
Fintan Hourihan, head of the Irish Dental Association told the Irish Independent: "People are shocked when they find out how little they are entitled to.
"We deal with queries on a daily basis because patients are trying to figure out why there are such cuts."
A spokeswoman for the HSE said the scheme incurred a 60pc increase in spending after 2005 as demand increased.
It was decided in 2010 to cap spending at the 2008 budget.
"If a patient is in a high risk or vulnerable group fillings may be provided over and above the two fillings per calendar year. A patient can request to be assessed for high risk through their dentist," she said.
However, latest figures show that even the €63m may not be spent this year. Between January and October €42m was released for 296,475 medical card patients.
This amounts to an average of €142 per patient compared to €207 last year.