Children let down by 'serious decline' in dental services

December 8th, 2023 3:30 PM

By Jackie Keogh

Three of West Cork's six dental practices have closed in recent years. (Photo: Shutterstock)

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FINE Gael Cllr Caroline Cronin has written to the Health Service Executive (HSE) about what she has described as ‘the serious decline in children’s dental services across West Cork.’

Over the last few years, 50% of dental clinics for children in the area – namely Skibbereen, Schull, and Castletownbere – have closed, leaving just Bantry, Dunmanway, and Clonakilty operational.

‘The drastic decrease in services available to children has left the area’s dental health service in a worse state than it was five years ago,’ she said.

The councillor said dental staff numbers are at an alltime low with just 2.5 dentists covering from Clonakilty to Castletownbere and the Mizen. She said the tragedy is that there is a clinic in the new primary care centre in Castletownbere but no staff.

‘How can new fully equipped clinics be left closed?’ she asked. The Schull clinic, also located in a primary care centre, has been without a dentist since the last person relocated and was not replaced, while the Skibbereen clinic closed in 2020.

In the past, she said children were offered treatment in 1st, 3rd and 6th class, while children with special needs were recalled every six to 12 months. Currently, she said, only children in 6th class are offered an appointment, which means some children have missed out on treatments which prevent decay. Children requiring general anaesthesia for extractions and fillings are on an indefinite waiting list, and have to wait more than five years for treatment in Cork city.

Cork Kerry Community Healthcare confirmed the service has a number of vacant posts at present. At the end of 2022, the spokesperson said there were 271 DTSS dentists participating in the scheme, but since January 1st 2023, 64 private dentists have cancelled their DTSS contracts.

The spokesperson said the pandemic had a significant impact ‘a large backlog’ in the schools programme in Cork and Kerry.

The service is currently only treating sixth class students until the backlog is cleared.

The spokesperson said the service continues to prioritise special care needs patients and there is also an emergency service available to any child under 16 who is suffering from acute or chronic dental pain and infection.

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