A leading representative of the Irish Dental Association (IDA) has said that young teenagers – a group that displays alarming levels of dental disease – are being failed miserably by HSE dental cuts.

Dr Padraig Halvey, newly elected President of the IDA’s HSE Dental Surgeons Group, told the Group’s conference in Galway that the plight of young teenagers with dental disease was being exacerbated by the HSE’s failure to meet its obligations to children under 16.

The Public Dental Service has responsibility for the dental health of children up to age 16 and for all special care patients, both children and adults.

Figures from the IDA show that half of all 12 year olds have decay in their permanent teeth and this rises to three-quarters of all 15 year olds. Dental decay is now the most common chronic disease children experience in Ireland.

“We are seeing extremely high rates of dental decay among young teenagers but these young people are falling through the gaps of a Public Dental Service that has been starved of resources. If a 14 year old presents at a clinic with a dental problem he or she will receive emergency treatment for that specific issue. However, they might also require multiple fillings but there is no possibility in most clinics that they will be recalled for that. That reason for that is the lack of resources and the overwhelming workload public dentists face every day,” he said.

Dr Halvey, who is based in Letterkenny, Co. Donegal, also pointed out that while a lot of children in this position had medical cards, they were not entitled to receive treatment under the Medical Card system (DTSS) because patients had to be 16 to be eligible for the limited treatments available under that scheme.

“Young teenagers are basically in limbo. The failure to provide timely treatment and screening of simple problems or early onset of dental disease causes severe deterioration. This then requires complex remedial treatments such as crowns or implants, which the state services often cannot provide and many people cannot afford,” he said.

Dr Halvey told delegates that staff shortages meant that the waiting lists for oral surgery and orthodontics are getting longer all the time, while primary school screenings are being delayed or simply not carried out in some areas.