More dental specialists needed for Govt targets to be met

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More dental specialists are needed to staff the government's planned advanced oral healthcare centres.

The RCSI Faculty of Dentistry will today tell the Oireachtas Health Committee that the sector is under-resourced to meet the demands set out for it under a planned extension of services.

In April, the National Oral Health Policy was published. It set out plans for the creation of advanced oral healthcare centres in dental hospitals and general hospitals to carry out specialist, non-routine dental procedures.

However, the RCSI Faculty of Dentistry has said that the Department of Health has, to date, failed to consult with oral health bodies in a meaningful manner. Dr John Marley, Dean of the Faculty, said that this risks undermining the new policies.

He said that establishing advanced oral healthcare centres is premature without first implementing an educational and training structure to provide a pipeline of skilled, specialist dentists to fill positions.

There is currently no formal state-sponsored mechanism for specialist dental training in Ireland. Trainees are forced to go abroad and, according to the RCSI, many do not return.

Dr Marley said: "This ongoing supply problem is exacerbated by the fact that many Irish dental consultants are reaching retirement age, so we are likely to find ourselves facing an acute shortage of experienced clinicians, teachers and researchers in the very near future.

The Irish Dental Council recognises only two specialist dental fields: orthodontics and oral surgery. The UK, in contrast, recognises thirteen. A lack of dental consultants and accredited dental specialists will make staffing the Government’s new advanced oral healthcare centres extremely challenging.

The RCSI Faculty of Dentistry has recommended the introduction of a mandatory 'dental intern' year where newly qualified dentists would spend a year doing supervised, on-site training, as is standard practice in the UK. It has also called for mandatory continuous professional development training, as is the case for doctors, pharmacists and many other professionals in Ireland, and urged the government to allocate greater resources for dental specialist and consultant training.

"Dentistry, just like medicine, is a fast-changing, high-tech field. Without the appropriate educational and training supports in place, there is a risk that the proposed new oral healthcare centres will not achieve their objective, nor will be able to guarantee Irish patients the safe and contemporary treatment that they rightly expect," added Dr Marley.

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