State support for dental treatment, through PRSI and medical card schemes, has fallen from a high of almost €150 million in 2009 to less than €75 million last year.
Data also shows, from 2009 to 2015, the number of extractions of teeth among medical card patients increased, while cleanings and fillings fell. And, according to a study at St James’s hospital in Dublin, there was a 38 per cent increase in patients admitted for severe infections caused by dental decay, after the State dental supports were cut.
Following the economic collapse in 2009, entitlements to treatment, under the PRSI Dental Treatment Benefit Scheme, were severely cut. Workers had been entitled to a free check-up and cleaning, as well as subsidised gum cleaning, fillings, extractions, root canal treatments, X-rays and denture work. After the 2009 budget, only the free examination was retained and workers were required to pay for the cost of all other treatments.
In 2010, the medical card Dental Treatment Services Scheme was also cut back. Entitlements to cleaning, gum cleaning and X-rays were suspended, root canal treatment could only be performed on an emergency basis and only on front teeth, denture work was only allowed on an emergency basis and people could only have two fillings per year. But extractions, the cheapest of dental pain remedies, could still be performed on an unlimited basis.
Since then, data on medical card dental patients shows extractions have increased by 15 per cent, from more than 108,000 in 2009 to almost 124,600 in 2016. And surgical extractions have increased by 40 per cent, from just over 37,200 to more than 52,000.
The number of fillings carried out for medical card patients dropped by 37 per cent, from more than 604,000 to almost 380,000. And cleaning, which is essential to help prevent gum disease, fell by 96 per cent, from 255,000 treatments in 2009 to almost 10,100 in 2016.
Spending on the PRSI scheme fell from €55.7 million in 2009 to €10.5 million in 2016. It is expected to increase to €15.4 million this year because benefits under the scheme were extended to self-employed people for the first time, but none of the old dental treatments have been reinstated.