The Irish Dental Association (IDA) said that up to 10,000 children under the age of 15 are being hospitalized in Ireland each year to have teeth extracted under general anesthetic.
The majority of these cases could have been avoided if detected earlier, however, cutbacks to dental supports have made this impossible said IDA.
It said that these figures are up to five times higher than those seen in the UK. Thousands of children with chronic dental infection, many of whom need multiple extractions, have to wait up to one year for treatment.
"Why are thousands of our young people undergoing the trauma of hospitalization for multiple dental extractions? Some 95% of these cases would have been avoidable if they had been detected and treated earlier. The reason they weren't is because of Government cuts to family dental supports since 2010, the constant undermining of what had been a highly effective schools screening service and the fact that too many of our young people have a poor diet containing too much sugar," commented IDA president, Anne Twomey.
In 2010, when the cuts were first introduced, the IDA insisted that they would have long-term consequences for the oral health of the country.
However, the Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has disputed the IDA's figures. He said that the correct figure is around 3,600, not 10,000 and has asked the Chief Dental Officer to look into this.
"The closure of the walk-in clinic in St James's Hospital in Dublin means waiting lists for general anesthetic services in Dublin, Wicklow and Kildare are 12 months. Waiting periods around the country are typically six to nine months. We know there are currently over 3,000 children awaiting general anesthetic services and some of these have been waiting up to a year," said Twomey.
This issue is compounded by the fact that dental cases are not included on hospital priority lists and theater slots are canceled on a regular basis, said Twomey.
"For example, if a child is waiting longer than six months to have an ear, nose or throat operation, the hospital is penalized, but this doesn't happen for dental patients. We are hearing stories of children having to be admitted for IV antibiotics for an oral infection. Our concern is that general anesthetic services for dentistry will not become a priority until a child has a serious outcome from a dental infection," said Twomey.
She called on the HSE to put dental cases on hospital priority lists and ensure that the appropriate numbers of staff to deal with these cases are in place.