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84,000 children and teenagers awaiting dental assessment or treatment, new figures

Dentists have claimed ‘shocking’ new figures which reveal 84,000 children and teenagers from all over the country are awaiting dental assessment or treatment, underestimate the scale of the problem and have called for the appointment of 100 new dentists over next two years

The new HSE figures, published by RTE, also show the regions with the longest waiting lists are the south-east, the border region and the midlands.

File image of a dentist at work

The Irish Dental Association described the figures as shocking.

Dr Gillian Smith, a spokesperson for the IDA said that due to delays in assessments children are ending up in pain, with swelling and infection, being put on repeated courses of antibiotics, needing operations under general anaesthetic and missing school.

The figures were highlighted by Fianna Fail health spokesperson, Stephen Donnelly under a parliamentary question.

Deputy Donnelly said: “It’s emerged that the longest delays are mainly in the South East of the country. 22,900 children and adolescents are waiting for dental treatment in Carlow, Kilkenny, South Tipperary, Waterford and Wexford. There are 18,500 waiting in the north-east around Cavan, Monaghan, Sligo and Leitrim. While there are 12,900 waiting in the midlands in areas like Laois, Offaly, Longford and Westmeath.

“It’s important to understand the knock-on effect that delays like these are causing," he added. "I recently met with the Irish Dental Association who explained that children with what would be considered very minor problems are left waiting so long that their treatment becomes critical. They’re suffering through pain and infections which could easily be avoided with earlier intervention.

“In some cases children are missing days from school, being put on repeated courses of antibiotics and requiring surgery because the problem has been allowed get so bad. Official statistics show that around 7,000 children are sent to hospital each year to have a tooth removed under general anaesthetic. We’ve also discovered that in some areas, when children miss their assessments, they are simply taken off the waiting list."

The Chief Executive of the IDA, Fintan Hourihan said that while the figures are a disgrace, they probably underestimate the scale of the problem.

“The waiting lists provided by the HSE focus mainly on the young people waiting for treatment after they have been assessed. However, there are thousands more waiting to be assessed for possible dental treatment.”

“These figures won’t come as a surprise to anyone who is aware of the lack of resources which the Public Dental Service has been forced to contend with. While the number of children eligible for treatment has increased by 20% over the past decade, the numbers of dentists employed by the HSE has fallen by 20%.

"As a result, waiting lists have just got longer and longer, children are being put through unnecessary pain and distress while the state has to pay the cost of remedial treatment. Very often this is seven to eight times higher than preventive care”

“We are calling for the appointment of 100 extra public dental surgeons over a two-year time frame to tackle these lists and the immediate publication by the Department of Health of a new oral health strategy – a strategy which the Department refused to consult with us on.”

“The current medical card scheme is unfit for purpose and needs to be replaced as soon as possible, while new dental contract talks and reform of tax reliefs for dental care for adults and children also need to be implemented urgently.

"Without these changes, children and adults will continue to suffer unnecessarily from dental disease” Mr Hourihan concluded.