The Irish Dental Association has stated that 500 dentists are required urgently in order to meet the needs of the population and replace retiring dentists.
This is yet another crisis in a series relating to workforce issues in healthcare. Not only has the government failed to prioritise oral health in any form whether it be funding or awareness through public health, it has failed to create a serious strategy to address the dire workforces issues that face our healthcare system.
€5m was allocated to address the school careening backlog however none of this money was allowed to be used to recruit. Not only this but there is a 10 year backlog in services with many children only receiving their first appointment in fourth year of secondary school.
We are now in a situation where we have two year waiting lists for treatments with anaesthetic, meaning dentists are faced with the impossible decision of deciding which children are suffering the most pain. In addition to this the number of public-only dentists in the HSE has dropped by almost a quarter over the past 15 years. This is completely unacceptable by the time many children are seen by a dentist for the first time irreversible damage has been done.
Many children with special educational needs are also suffering, left in pain and distress due to these long waiting lists. It is not acceptable for parents to have to pay extortionate fees when families are already struggling to provide the basics.
The only solution is a fully funded all-Ireland NHS system which includes oral health based on a polyclinic model and is free at the point of access, coupled with a serious strategy to address the workforces issues we face and to ensure that free healthcare is available to all.