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Greyhounds receive better dental care than Irish children, says dental clinic 

A Dublin Dental clinic has questioned where the priorities of the Government lie when it comes to looking after children’s teeth in Ireland. 

Redmond Dental Clinic in Dublin took to its Twitter account this week to point out that the State provides a free dental check up once a year to greyhounds – while children are only afforded a total of two check-ups in an entire childhood through the HSE.

“If only children were Greyhounds, they’d get a free dental check-up once a year. Priorities?”

The dental practice was basing its comments on an Oireachtas Committee held last week which heard from the Interim Chief Executive of Greyhound Racing Ireland, Mr John Tuohey as he provided evidence to the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee on GRI’s 2021 financial statements.

A Fine Gael TD asked the committee for the total contribution made by Greyhound Racing Ireland to provide financial assistance or Exchequer funding to support them.

In response, GRI Veterinary Director, Mr. William Fitzgerald, detailed how €180 per dog is allocated for the direct preparation of greyhounds in Ireland.

“The assistance comes on a number of levels. Preparing the greyhounds to be rehomed involves a number of facets. The first of these is getting the dog neutered. A contribution of €50 per greyhound is made towards this. There is also a contribution towards the cost of vaccinations and preparing health checks of the greyhounds to the amount of €80 per greyhound. Since the beginning of February this year there is an additional €50 per greyhound for any dental work required”, he said.

At present in Ireland, all children in certain classes in primary school and children with special needs are offered an appointment for one free dental exam paid for by the State and provided by the HSE. A follow up appointment will be made with the local HSE Dental Clinic if needed. Children outside of these classes will only be seen by the HSE Dental Clinic for emergency treatment, the HSE states.

Thousands of Irish children awaiting care

In October, the Irish Dental Association said that school dental services for Irish children are “virtually non-existent”, with children facing a wait of almost ten years to be seen in some parts of the country to access the HSE School Dental Screening Service which is staffed by public only dentists. This means that children are missing out on early intervention – meaning more drastic treatment is needed later down the line.

“Primary school children should be having check-ups in second, fourth and sixth class, however, the strain on the system is so much that some children aren’t receiving the first of these three important dental checks until they are in their fourth year of secondary school,” the IDA said.

“This means that some children are not receiving an initial check-up until they are 16 years of age and are therefore missing out on vital early intervention, resulting in more drastic treatment or, in the worst cases, extractions being required during the formative teenage and early adult years”.

The delays to care are being blamed on understaffing and a lack of resources in the public dental service, with the numbers of practising public-only dentists having dropped by 23 per cent in the last 15 years – falling from 330 in 2006 to 254 in 2022.

This means the HSE will have to hire 76 dentists immediately to return the service to the levels it was at 15 years ago, the IDA said. At present, there are two-year-long waiting lists 

for treatments which require General Anaesthetic with dentists saying that they are being forced to choose which children they believe are suffering the most pain and treat them ahead of patients who may have already been waiting months or years.

This, the Irish Dental Association reports, is leading to high levels of stress and burnout among dentists hired by the HSE.

Chief Executive of the Irish Dental Association, Fintan Hourihan, speaking at the end of October, said the situation cannot be allowed to continue. Mr Hourihan said the Government must address children’s dental care as “a critical priority”.

“It is shameful that children, special care and other vulnerable patients are not receiving the dental care they are entitled to, with many suffering unnecessarily later in life as a result.

“The simple solution is to adequately staff and resource our Public Dental Service. Too many children are slipping through the cracks, despite all the evidence showing that the younger a child is when they are first examined, the less likely the need for major treatment or extractions later. Dentists, however, are reporting seeing older children who are requiring 3 or 4 extractions and root canal treatment. 

“This cannot be allowed to continue. We are urging the Government to address this as a critical priority to ensure children are receiving the care they are entitled to under our public dental system and at the earliest opportunity to save them from unnecessary and drastic treatments later.”

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