Oral health: putting your money where your mouth is
The cost of visiting the dentist may set your teeth on edge but free check ups and tax relief can help ease the pain, says Sinead Ryan
Most of us would prefer to do almost anything than visit the dentist.
For the much maligned profession, it's a bit like being a politician - nobody likes them, but everyone thinks their own one is great.
Dentistry has changed as much as medicine and surgical treatments since we were all children. It is virtually pain-free these days, preventative more than restorative and run by a highly qualified profession.
There is no doubt the Dental Treatment Services Scheme (DTSS), introduced in 1952, has made a huge difference to dental health in Ireland, as has the fluoridation of water, despite its detractors. However, cutbacks since the 2010 Budget left only minimal free coverage in place, which has led to thousands taking risks with their oral health.
The scheme was mentioned in this year's Budget, with Minister Michael Noonan agreeing to reinstate a free 'scale and polish' to the existing check up, along with extending it to the self employed from the end of next month. However, with talks still ongoing with dentists over compensation, there's no guarantee it will happen. It's a far cry from what used to be available.
These days, the DTSS costs the state around €10m pa. In 2009, before the cuts, it was €62m. But the Government cannot shoulder the blame alone. The vast majority of people (75pc in 2013) do not avail of the free check up. The Irish Dental Association says this is in part due to confusion over what is allowed, and a worry over cost of any treatment, which must be borne by the patient. What's not commonly known is that poor dental hygiene can lead to heart disease, strokes, diabetes and respiratory disease.
DTSS: What's allowed
Those on the medical card fare the best in terms of free benefits; they are entitled to an annual check up, two fillings, unlimited extractions and emergency pain treatment. PAYE workers are only allowed a check up before they have to pay. From March 31 they (and the self-employed) will be entitled to a free scale and polish with participating dentists. Children are entitled to a free check up in second, fourth and sixth classes. Free entitlements stop after 16.
Tooth whitening, implants, veneers and 'smile design' are all elective treatments which can cost less abroad. Eastern Europe is the most popular destination. Careful research, local recommendations and a visit to your own dentist first will help decision making. All Irish dentists are registered with the Dental Council; those abroad may not meet the same standards.
It can be daunting visiting the dentist if you haven't been in years. Make an appointment, asking only for an examination with a mirror (ie no implements) and build your confidence over time. Dentists are used to it.
Revenue allows tax relief on non-routine dental work at the standard rate (20pc). It does not include fillings or cleaning. It is there to cover expensive procedures such as crowns, implants and root canal work. The form is MED2 and you can back claim up to four years.
Most health insurance policies don't cover dental treatments. Stand alone plans include Decare (decaredental.ie) which start from €166.92 pa. VHI's offer is €259.73 with 10pc discount for members.