DENTISTS say they are seeing an increase in tooth decay among children as cuts leave many being screened for the first time when they are too old and about to leave primary school.
Previously, children were screened in second, fourth and sixth classes but they are now older when the examinations are taking place and it is too late for prevention, with particular delays for youngsters in Cork, Galway, Kerry, Laois and Offaly, the annual meeting of the Irish Dental Association was recently told.
Iseult Bouarroudj, president of the HSE Dental Surgeons Group, told the conference that the the service for children was "in crisis" and is failing our primary school pupils, special needs patients and teenagers.
She said: "Many children are now being left with untreated dental decay as the service has changed from one which provided preventative treatment to one which only provides reactionary treatment.
"In some areas, children are only being seen at sixth class, which is far too late for any preventative measures to be carried out.
"We have seen an increase in dental decay due to the decrease in manpower and the end result is a huge increase in emergencies, requiring extensive treatment."
There are 350 dentists employed by the HSE to look after 250,000 children as well as well as elderly people, children in care, and people with an intellectual or physical disability.
Ms Bouarroudj said: "Preventive measures in dentistry, such as the placement of fissure sealants, are of vital importance in the management of a sound dentition. In many areas, even this procedure is being missed."
Dentists called on the Government to lift the embargo on recruitment and allow the recreation of a system where each and every child is seen at regular intervals.
Fintan Hourihan, chief executive of the association, said the worst delays were in Cork, Galway, Kerry, Laois and Offaly – but the problem was now set to spread throughout the country.
"We are still waiting for the government to honour its promise to review the cuts in the dental service," said Mr Hourihan.
"We have now reached a tipping point where the harm being done to oral health is greater than the short-term savings achieved by blunt cutbacks to the public dental service.
"This is true for the medical card scheme and to the PRSI schemes."
Health & Living