Dáil debates

Thursday, 19 January 2023

Public Dental Services: Motion [Private Members]

 

5:45 pm

Photo of Johnny MythenJohnny Mythen (Wexford, Sinn Fein)

Without stating the obvious, we have a major problem in dental services nationwide. Along with others, I have raised this issue many times through parliamentary questions, the Minister's Department and local media since 2021. On the ground, dentists are not taking on any new clients, particularly those in the medical card scheme. In 2017, there were 1,700 dentists registered with the dental treatment service scheme. In 2022, there were only 650 left. In Wexford in 2020, 70 dentists were operating under the scheme. In 2021, there were only 29, and this number was declining.

The majority of students who graduate as general dental practitioners leave as soon as they qualify. Approximately 200 dentists, a minute number, register every year and come from two dental schools. In my constituency, Wexford, there are children with special needs and disabilities who need immediate dental treatment, particularly under general anaesthetic. They have to wait months for an appointment. Some have to wait a year, and some even more. We have a well-documented case concerning an old-age pensioner from New Ross who had to resort to pulling out his own teeth. Is this the level of care we have reached in the country? This is one of the wealthiest countries in the OECD. In fact, a top representative of the Irish Dental Association, from south-west Wexford, described the impact of dental shortages as "unacceptable for a first-world country".

There are only two practising dentists in the dental treatment scheme in New Ross, causing people to travel up to 30 km or more to try to obtain a dentist who will take them on. Each town across my county has the same tale to tell. We need to reform the dental treatment service scheme. Dental contracts need to be reviewed and related to best practice based on international standards. The national oral healthcare plan needs a proactive workforce plan, as was covered in Sinn Féin's alternative budget. We need to provide additional undergraduate places for dental undergraduates in Irish universities immediately. We need to expand training places and examine vocational training schemes. The work permit scheme must be addressed immediately because it could be one of the instruments that could help in addressing the current crisis or current failures in our dental healthcare. This needs to be prioritised and acted upon. Over 11,000 people have been left in pain for months on end waiting for orthodontic treatment. No longer should this be tolerated or accepted. Over 5,000 are waiting for more than three years. I support this motion and thank the Regional Group for introducing it. I hope the Minister will act upon this very serious situation.

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