Four out of five Irish people believe their teeth and gums are healthy and look good according to a new dental health survey.

However, the survey also found that 23% of people are visiting the dentist less often since 2010, while 58% said they would only consider visiting the dentist in an emergency.

According to the survey of 750 adults, which was carried out by Behaviour and Attitudes on behalf of the Irish Dental Association, 46% of Irish people are spending less on dental health while 41% rarely if ever think of visiting the dentist.

IDA Chief Executive Fintan Hourihan said the survey shows the impact the recession is having on dental health, and a disconnect between what people think and how they act.

“One in four Irish people are attending the dentist less often. In population terms this equates to 760,000 adults. It’s clear that this is having a hugely negative impact on the dental health of the population. While over 80% believe their gums are healthy, according to the most recent national oral health survey, 80% of Irish people have some form of gum disease.

“While 94% of respondents said they thought dental health is important, almost 60% said they would only attend a dentist when they really need to or in an emergency. Financial pressures are definitely a factor here but so also is the lack of information from the HSE. The survey shows that only half of Irish adults are aware of their State dental entitlement of a free check-up and only one in three have availed of it,” he said.

Mr Hourihan said the survey showed the need to reach out to non-attenders and for a restoration of the benefits that were previously available under the Medical Card and PRSI schemes.

“The Department of Health needs to reach out to the people who are not attending and encourage them to do so. The cost of preventive treatment will be much less than the cost of the current neglect,” he warned.

The survey also found that dentists continue to enjoy the confidence of the general public, with over 95% of respondents saying they trust the care they receive from them and 94% saying they trust their advice.