Dental treatment for medical card holders is in "complete chaos", due to major drops in funding, the Irish Dental Association (IDA) has claimed.
According to the IDA, "unprecedented" numbers of dentists are now withdrawing from the Dental Treatment Service Scheme (DTSS) and this is having a major impact on patients nationwide.
The DTSS provides access to limited dental treatments for adults with medical cards, such as dental examinations and two fillings per calendar year.
It pointed out that between 2017 and 2020, State spending on dental care for medical card patients fell by 30% from €5.5 million to €3.8 million.
However, certain areas have seen their funding drop by even more. For example, Clare recorded a funding drop of 48% during this time period. It was followed by Kerry, which recorded a drop of 45%.
Furthermore, parts of Dublin accounted for six of the top 10 biggest funding drops during this time, with the highest drops recorded in Dublin north central (44%), Dublin west (42%) and Dublin south west (40%).
Meanwhile, HSE figures show that the number of DTSS contracts held by dentists nationwide decreased from 1,847 in 2015 to 1,279 in 2020 - a fall of 31%.
"This is an unprecedented crisis in dentistry. In 2020, almost one-quarter of participating dentists nationwide left this scheme, which is utterly unfit for purpose. Dentists simply cannot afford to participate, leading to complete chaos," commented IDA chief executive, Fintan Hourihan.
He said that patients are now facing treatment delays and dentists are completely disillusioned with the Government's lack of action in this area.
"We have sought to engage with the Department of Health to modify this scheme over many years to no avail. Increasingly, our members believe that the refusal to acknowledge this reality and the general approach of the Department of Health suggests a level of disrespect, if not contempt, for medical card patients and the dentists contracted to care for them.
"It also shows scant regard or understanding of the impact of this crisis on vulnerable patients, who are unable to afford access to vital dental care," Mr Hourihan commented.
He pointed out that general dental practices are incurring significant extra costs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and these costs are making the current DTSS unviable.
"Dentists want to be able to provide care for medical card patients, but the Government is leaving them with little choice but to minimise their involvement or withdraw," he said.
Discussions on this topic are now closed.