'Pull More Teeth'!... Dentists Told to Take Cheaper Option!

Submitted by SadInAmerica on Sun, 04/04/2010 - 9:10pm.

Medical card holders face the prospect of a return to 1950s dentistry -- and will have to endure painful tooth extractions to save money.

The moves come in the wake of cuts of up to €40m in the Health Service Executive (HSE) funding for treating medical card holders this year.

Dentists will be given strict instructions next week on how to treat medical card holders.

In a letter to the Department of Health, senior HSE executive Laverne McGuinness said that treatments such as fillings and root canals could only be approved in "emergency circumstances".

Dentists have warned that this means more teeth will be extracted, because it's cheaper.

Procedures for treating gum disease are also being suspended, except in specific cases.

These include where a patient is pregnant or has a condition such as diabetes. Even then, approval must be sought before treatment.

If a patient was to go private, it would cost around €85 for a filling and €366 for a front-tooth root canal, although dentists insist that they are reducing prices because of the pressures on customers.

The new restrictions, which are spelt out in a letter to the secretary-general of the Department of Health, Michael Scanlan, will be outlined in more detail in the next fortnight, when fresh instructions will be issued to dentists.

The department's letter was unveiled yesterday by the Irish Dental Association, which said it would see the state of dentistry for many medical holders return "to the 1950s", when teeth had to be extracted because it was the cheapest option.


The association estimated that cuts of between €30m and €40m in HSE funding for the medical card scheme would lead to hundreds of thousands of patients being denied essential treatment. It also estimated that there would be 468,000 fewer treatments, including 181,000 fewer fillings.

The €63m funding for the dental care of medical card holders is capped for the first time, even though the number of people getting medical cards is on the rise, with another 140,000 expected to qualify this year.

James Turner, a dentist from Baltinglass in Co Wicklow, said that if the new restrictions were enforced, a young man whose two front teeth had been knocked out of line in a sports injury and who was in huge pain would have them extracted, rather than treated.

"This will take dentistry back to the 1950s," said Mr Turner. "There will be thousands like him."

He said if the same patient was to pay for the treatment privately, it would cost him up to €500 to save his teeth.

Fintan Hourihan, chief executive of the Irish Dental Association, said the cuts would also affect children under 16 years of age and special-needs patients, who already face a three-year wait for treatment in Cork.

It is expected that the cuts will be effected from April 1 and will come at a time when cuts in PRSI benefit will see more people who previously used the scheme for dental care relying on their medical cards.

Mr Hourihan said dentists were calling on Health Minister Mary Harney and the HSE to examine alternative means of limiting the impact of the cuts by agreeing to supplementary funding or offloading work to the National Treatment Purchase Fund.

However, the HSE said it had to work under the funding it was given and it hoped that cuts in fees to dentists would allow some flexibility with the budget for the scheme.

Eilish O'Regan - March 24, 2010 - source Independent.ie

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Submitted by SadInAmerica on Sun, 04/04/2010 - 9:10pm.