In Ireland, dental decay is the most common reason that children aged between five and nine need a general anaesthetic, yet oral health is still not given the attention it needs in this country, a leading dentist has said.
According to Dr Christine Myers, a principle dental surgeon in Dublin and incoming president of the HSE Dental Group, dental decay is the most common human disease, but oral health is still not seen as an integral part of general health in Ireland.
She insisted that preventative care should be at the heart of the public dental service, however due to staff shortages, ‘that simply isn't the case'.
"By right, primary school children should be screened by a public health dentist three times, but the reality is that school screenings are observed more in the breach than the observance. This is having a devastating effect on thousands of children around the country.
"The public dental service should be based on risk assessment of patients and the service offered reflective of each person's needs. As risk can change, the service needs to be reactive and dynamic to allow for this," she commented.
She made her comments at the Irish Dental Association's (IDA) annual seminar for HSE dentists in Portlaoise. Also speaking at the seminar, IDA chief executive, Fintan Hourihan, warned that the Department of Health's new National Oral Health Policy, which is due to be published shortly, may be doomed to failure if the department does not work on its relationship with dentists.
He pointed out that despite working on this new policy for the last four years, the department and the HSE have not consulted with the IDA and other stakeholders, a decision he described as ‘inexplicable, unwise and objectionable'.
"In contrast to the Department of Health and the HSE, whose only contributions have been to slash spending and delay long overdue legislative reforms and the publication of a new oral health policy, the IDA and its members are proud of the role they have taken in promoting a number of significant initiatives, such as establishing the Dental Complaints Resolution Service, Mouth Cancer Awareness Day and raising awareness of what limited dental benefits remain available to members of the public," Mr Hourihan said..
He noted that during the summer, the IDA established a task force to look at the priorities which should inform the new oral health policy. This has been sent to the Minister for Health.
"In that document, we point out that oral health at Government level is regarded as the poor relation of general health and is generally overlooked as a gateway to promoting general health.
"While all sections of the profession remain ready to play our part, unless a new relationship based on mutual respect is established between the department and the country's dentists, the new policy will be doomed to failure," Mr Hourihan said.