Three in four not availing of free dental checks

Dentists say voucher scheme would address public confusion

Dentists are witnessing a “huge increase” in dental decay and other problems. Photograph: Alan Betson

Dentists are witnessing a “huge increase” in dental decay and other problems. Photograph: Alan Betson


Public confusion over medical entitlements means that 75 per cent of people who are entitled to a free dental check do not avail of it, the Irish Dental Association has said.

In cutting back on two main schemes, the Government and its predecessor had also created a “dental health time bomb” which would have enormous repercussions for the health of the population in future years, the association’s chief executive, Fintan Hourihan, warned in Galway yesterday.

Dentists were witnessing a “huge increase” in dental decay and other problems, and poor oral health could cause or exacerbate medical conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, premature births and respiratory disease, he said.

Introducing a voucher system for the annual oral examination could arrest a “shocking decline in the dental health of the nation”, Mr Hourihan said, noting that a recent Ipsos study of perceptions of dental health in seven European countries had found Ireland to have the lowest number of adults attending for routine examinations.

Ireland also recorded the highest number of people citing cost factor as a deterrent in the study, he said.

He criticised the Health Service Executive for a “dereliction of duty” in failing to explain to people what their actual entitlements were.

The association says that benefits to medical card and PRSI schemes need to be gradually restored, along with restoration of the marginal rate of tax relief for dental treatment.

It has also called for an end to the HSE embargo on recruitment of dentists, and appointment of a chief dental officer. This post has been vacant for the past 20 years, the association points out.

A voucher system for treatment had worked well in Sweden, Australia, Canada and the US, and would be a “good starting point” for those who are not taking up annual checks, Mr Hourihan said.