The Irish Times view on the new oral health policy: Filling the gaps

The dental profession is unique among mainstream healthcare professionals in Ireland in not being required by law to undertake continuous professional development training

A new national oral health policy focuses on prevention, on screening and on building links between oral and general health through a common risk factor approach. Photograph: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

A new national oral health policy focuses on prevention, on screening and on building links between oral and general health through a common risk factor approach. Photograph: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

 

A new national oral health policy has set out the future of dental care in Ireland. It promises free treatment for all children up to the age of 16, but abolishes school intervention teams. The policy focuses on prevention, on screening and on building links between oral and general health through a common risk factor approach. Its proposals concerning research and evaluation are also positive.

However, to publish a long awaited national strategy without the structured input of those who carry out most of the work in the area of oral health does not make sense.

The dentists’ representative body, the Irish Dental Association, told the Oireachtas health committee that its members were not consulted in any meaningful way or involved in the policy’s formation.

An absence of joined-up thinking is also evident in proposals for a network of advanced oral healthcare centres in dental hospitals. There is little point in establishing these centres in the absence of the necessary education and training required to produce the skilled dental specialists to staff these centres of excellence.

The dental faculty of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland told the health committee there is a need to introduce a supervised intern year for all newly qualified dentists, as well as more specialist training and mandatory continuing professional development.

The dental profession is unique among mainstream healthcare professionals in Ireland in not being required by law to undertake continuous professional development training.

Overall, the new policy envisages a move from a “diagnose and treat” approach to a preventative one. However, the dental association said its members are concerned that moving from a targeted, risk based model to a demand led model “would be catastrophic” for patients in lower socio-economic areas with high treatment needs.

It is not too late for the Department of Health to open the oral health policy for discussion and feedback. That’s what it should do.

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