The widespread closure of dental practices across the country is now inevitable due to the coronavirus outbreak, dentists have warned.
The Irish Dental Association (IDA) said on Monday that dentists had been "left in the dark as to what was expected of them in the current situation".
It warned that up to 10,000 people who were employed indirectly or directly in dental care in Ireland could be affected as a result of closures.
IDA chief executive Fintan Hourihan said that dentists faced particular challenges in the current situation:
“By the nature of their work, dentists are one of the most vulnerable groups of healthcare professionals to a virus like Covid-19. Dentists work in extremely close proximity to the mouths and throats of the patients they are treating and they use equipment which generates spray and droplets from a patient’s mouth. Even with the use of protective clothing and best practice to minimise droplets or aerosols, it is extremely difficult to do the work of dentistry while trying to minimise the risk of contagion from Covid-19.”
Mr Hourihan said in other countries dental practices had scaled down services on the instructions of relevant authorities "but we have had no clear, unambiguous guidance from either the Dental Council or the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) as to the current crisis".
“The implication that we can carry on as normal is clearly nonsense. It flouts the national effort to try to increase social distancing and to reduce the spread of the virus.”
Mr Hourihan said in the absence of clear directions and with the ultimate focus on increasing social distancing, patients were cancelling their appointments. “Many of our members are making the decision themselves to close their practices for the duration of this crisis so as not to do anything that might increase the spread of the virus”.
“We are urgently seeking a meeting with the Minister for Health to discuss this matter with him and seek his advice as to how to proceed. We would also be happy to discuss with the Minister whether there are other areas where dentists may be able to support the healthcare effort during this crisis.”
Mr Hourihan also warned that the crisis would have a massive financial impact on the profession: “Approximately 10,000 people are employed directly and indirectly through dental practices. Dentists receive negligible support from the HSE or the State for their services and the impact of closing their practices now will be severe and immediate.”
The IDA represents about 2,000 dentists working across the public and private sectors in Ireland.