The widespread closure of dental practices nationwide "is now inevitable", the Irish Dental Association (IDA) has warned.
It said that the country's dental services are now facing "an unprecedented crisis as a result of COVID-19", with dentists facing particular challenges during 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," explained IDA chief executive, Fintan Hourihan.
He said that dentists have been "left in the dark" as to what is expected of them in the current situation.
"In other countries, dental practices have 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 insisted.
He noted that in the absence of clear directions and with social distancing being so key, patients are cancelling their appointments and many dentists are choosing to close their practices for the duration of the 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 said.
He also pointed out that the crisis will have a major 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. We need to discuss this situation with the Government as a matter of urgency," he added.
Discussions on this topic are now closed.