Young medical card dental patients are losing teeth early in an ‘unequal system’


Gabija Gataveckaite

Young medical card dental patients are not being treated the same as private patients as  people are losing their teeth early in life in an “unequal system”, TDs and Senators were told today.

Free unlimited extractions for medical card holders is seeing young people get their teeth removed instead of seeking preventive care, the Oireachtas Health Committee heard.

Representatives from the Irish Dental Association (IDA) told the committee how cuts to the Dental Treatment Services Scheme (DTSS) in 2010 have resulted in a “bleak” situation for dentists participating in the scheme.

They said how currently, unlimited extractions are provided under the scheme for medical card holders - but cleanings and polish treatments have been suspended.

Two fillings are allowed per year in emergency situations and other treatments, including root canal or dentures, are also only available in an emergency.

This means that with few patients availing of the scheme, dentists are not participating in it, leading to the “most vulnerable” being left without adequate dental care.

“The situation has never been as bleak as it is currently,” said the Chief Executive of Association Fintan Hourihan.

“There has never been a problem of this magnitude or scale in the history of the scheme,” he said.

“It is cheaper to take out a tooth than it is to actually do the correct procedure which would be to maintain the tooth,” pointed out Dr Anne O’Neill, President of the Association.

“You’re trained to do the best preventative care and the medical card doesn’t allow you to do that," she said.

Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane said that unlimited numbers of extractions “don’t make any sense”.

Mr Hourihan said that the cutbacks made in 2009 and 2010 “sat uncomfortably” with many dentists.

“People are now going to be put off from going to the dentist if they feel there’s no limit on the amount of the extractions but there are limits on the number of fillings, to use that basic example,” he added.

While official figures show that there are around 1,000 dentists that are currently availing of the scheme, Mr Hourihan said that he expects the actual number to be significantly less.

With fewer dentists participating in the scheme, the meeting heard that fewer people can access dental care.

The association also said that last November in a meeting with the Department of Health, they presented a framework for a way to re-do the current DTSS.

However, they said that while they were promised a follow-up meeting with the Minister, this has not yet taken place. The Minister is due to appear before the Association’s AGM in May.