Dental care crisis Medical card patients nationwide at risk as dentists abandon HSE scheme in droves
It is estimated there are now just 750 private dentists signed up to treat medical card patients
Medical card holders who are struggling to find dental care face a postcode lottery following an exodus of private dentists from the scheme.
New figures reveal the extent of the patchy services across the country, with some areas becoming blackspots due to a lack of access.
In Dublin south-east, 46 dentists are no longer treating medical card holders – a drop of 85pc since 2016.
During the same time, Wicklow has seen a fall of 72pc in dentists participating, while the exit has reached 54pc in Laois and Offaly, 52pc in Kerry, 51pc in Wexford, 45pc in Meath and 43pc in Sligo and Leitrim.
The national picture has emerged in figures provided by the HSE to Sinn Féin spokesman on health David Cullinane.
It is estimated there are now just 750 private dentists signed up to treat medical card holders – one per 2,000 patients.
The growing number of dentists abandoning the scheme follows dissatisfaction with fees that were cut during the recession and have not been restored since, which, they say, makes the service financially unviable.
The dentists also are frustrated at the lack of clinical decision-making power they are allowed and the range of treatments available under the scheme, which has meant more patients are having teeth extracted when there may be alternative forms of treatment available.
The scheme originates from the early 1990s but is out of date in a era when everyone expects the perfect smile.
The Irish Dental Association said there are now less than half the dentists in the scheme compared to two years ago.
Mr Cullinane said that “many dentists who remain do it out of conscience and a sense of empathy but they want to see urgency from the Health Minister and the Government on fixing their contract.
“We have been raising this issue for over a year but there is no sense of urgency from the minister and the problem is getting worse.”
Separate figures from the HSE show the crisis extends beyond regular dentistry, with 27,000 children and adults on waiting lists for dental and oral surgery as well as orthodontics.
Mr Cullinane said the figures include 2,950 children and 1,392 special care patients who need dental surgery under a general anaesthetic.
“More than 80pc of patients on orthodontic waiting lists have been here for longer than a year and 40pc are waiting more than three years.”
The HSE said “it is aware of the difficulties facing medical card holders who are seeking dental treatment”.
A spokeswoman said where a patient cannot access a dentist, the HSE attempts to assist.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said it is a “priority” to address the crisis.
He said talks have taken place between the Department of Health and the Irish Dental Association with a view to investing €10m on top of the €56m estimate for the scheme this year.
He said he had been assured by the HSE that it will look for emergency cover for any medical card patients who cannot access a dentist.
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