The HSE and Health Minister Leo Varadkar have hit back at the assertion by the Irish Dental Association (IDA) that about 10,000 children a year receive general anaesthetic for dental extractions, saying the figure was closer to 3,600.
However, the dentists’ body yesterday stood by its figure which it said was based on HSE statistics given to them “on a confidential basis” which prevented it from disclosing their source.
“We can’t name sources for fear it would lead to a witch hunt against that person,” said a spokesman for the association.
The IDA blames cuts to free dental health care for the level of extractions and said the figure was an indictment of previous and successive government slash-and-burn health policies.
In a statement, the HSE said that it believes the true figure to be in the region of 3,600 a year. “Notwithstanding, the HSE has already undertaken to commence a national audit on general anaesthetic waiting lists for children and for those with special care and special needs,” the statement added.
Earlier, Mr Varadkar told RTÉ radio that even the lower figure might be an exaggeration and child oral health was improving.
The HSE said that dental health in children in Ireland was quite good and compared well internationally. “The FACCT survey (Fluoride and Caring for Children’s teeth) results show five-year-olds and 12-year-olds have less than one decayed tooth on average.
“This is a substantial improvement since 2002 when the previous survey was undertaken.”
The HSE also pointed out every child under 16 years of age was entitled to access care through public health emergency clinics.
“In relation to assessment and treatment, the policy is to see primary school children in first class and sixth which, by and large, is being adhered to around the country. For the small number of areas that pose a challenge, resources have been released in 2015 and into 2016 to improve the situation,” said the HSE.
Meanwhile, a new survey of HSE dental surgeons who are members of the Irish Dental Association has found one in five of them have missed work due to stress.
The highest stressor for respondents in the survey was the lack of access to secondary care services for patients, in particular to general anaesthetic services.
Fintan Hourihan, the chief executive of the Irish Dental Association, told delegates at the annual seminar of the IDA’s HSE dental surgeons group in Carlow it was clear morale was on the floor.
He said: “60% say they regularly feel stressed at work and this is simply not sustainable. The fact that it is the lack of services for patients which is the highest stressor is telling. Our members are under pressure to prioritise the most serious cases.
“The problem is all of the children on these waiting lists need urgent treatment and all need general anaesthetic. Yet dentists are being asked to subdivide them. While acute case are prioritised, less acute cases which include young children often requiring four or more extractions, can wait up to a year. This is simply not acceptable” he said.
Mr Hourihan called on the health minister to enter discussion with the IDA in order to put in place a comprehensive oral health care programme for children under six. “With children early intervention is key. Investment in oral health promotion is cost effective.”