Debate on how to repair Ireland’s oral health continues
DUBLIN, Ireland: In the lead-up to the Irish general election on 8 February, the Irish Dental Association (IDA) has voiced concerns over the incumbent government’s National Oral Health Policy which was originally released in April 2019. Under the policy, it is planned to extend free dental care to include patients under 16. The IDA said the changes were unrealistic and that it would be advising its members to speak to patients about the issues before election day.
The policy, titled Smile agus Sláinte: National Oral Health Policy, is the liberal-conservative party Fine Gael’s approach to combating the failures of the current system. At present, there are ever-lengthening waiting lists for school screenings and vital dental treatments. Minister for Health Simon Harris said, “Smile agus Sláinte provides the groundwork to transform oral health services over the next eight years.”
The new policy requires, among other things, private practice dentists to take on child patients in an emergency and assume responsibility for their care until they can be seen by a specialist. Fintan Hourihan, chief executive of the IDA, did not share Harris’s sentiments on the new proposal. “Ultimately, this will have a negative effect on all patients being seen in general dental practices who deserve far better from the health system,” he said.
This shifting of responsibility from the public sector to the private sector is something that Hourihan believes people should be aware of. He pointed out that over 200,000 dental appointments take place every week in Ireland and provide “a great opportunity for dentists across the country to inform patients about the dental crisis we are facing and what we want to see from politicians”.
However, the new package, which is estimated to cost approximately €80 million over five years, is a step towards refunding the oral health sector, which, according to Dr Dympna Kavanagh, chief dental officer at the Department of Health, has seen cuts of close to €1 billion over the past decade. He said: “This is a comprehensive evidence-based policy which has been informed by extensive research and deliberations of oral healthcare professionals.”
Whether or not dentists speaking to their patients will have an impact on the election result is almost impossible to predict. However, what this recent series of events has shown is the importance of open dialogue across all sectors to ensure that the issue at hand—how to repair Ireland’s oral health—is not forgotten.