Minister of State for Primary Care Alex White TD has praised the dedication of Irish dentists and the “extremely engaged” Irish Dental Association (IDA) in pursuing improvements in dental services. The Minister was responding to questions from Mr Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD of Sinn Féin about the “crisis in dental treatment services”, at a recent meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children.

Deputy Ó Caoláin referred to the significant advances in dental health and treatment made in the early 2000s, which have been steadily eroded by cutbacks, according to reports he had received from the IDA. Deputy Ó Caoláin challenged the Government to restore treatments to the PRSI and medical card schemes as sought by the IDA in view of the “quite alarming” deterioration in oral health.

In response, the Minister pointed to improved numbers of patients receiving treatment. He said that up to April 2013, over 170,000 eligible people had received some treatment, an increase of 10,000 on the same period in 2012.

The Minister agreed that primary and preventive dental care are “vital”, and admitted that dentistry had been affected by the financial constraints on the Department as a whole. He stated that he had met with the IDA, describing the Association as “very dedicated professionals who are extremely engaged in this”. Dentistry is one area where the impact of financial cuts can be seen, admitted the Minster.

The Minister continued: “I am very well aware of the importance of dentistry and well-developed, proper dental services”. He was “well convinced” of the vital role dentists play and the contribution they can make not just to better oral health but to better general health.

He mentioned the review of services commissioned by the HSE, which will advise on the best model of care. He assured the Committee that, within the constraints of the resources available, dental treatment will remain a priority of Government, and that he would continue to engage with the IDA on an ongoing basis.