The Public Dental Service for primary school children could be on the verge of collapse.
The Irish Dental Association says the falling number of dentists employed in the service has seen some children waiting a full 12 years for their first check up.
It said the delays will continue if the government does not initiate a major recruitment drive to employ an extra 150 new dentists.
Under the HSE scheme, children should get their first free check up in second class.
Currently 300 dentists work for the service but the association insists a 50% increase is required to deliver effective treatment.
Chief Executive Fintan Hourihan said a failure to address the staffing shortage would be very short sighted.
“We have seen the impact where dentists are not seeing patients attend as regularly and then within a short period of time we are then seeing patients presenting in pain, requiring extractions and curative treatments rather than preventing the difficulties in the first place,” he said.
“Clearly there is a need for more dentists to cope with the rise in demand for service.
“Unless we see action on this shortly, we think the whole service is on the verge of collapse.”
International guidelines recommend that children should have their first dental examination by their first birthday – and the IDA has voiced its support for the introduction of a voucher scheme for parents to cover the cost of their child’s first dental visit.
The association is also calling for the restoration and expansion of ‘Med 2’ tax relief on dental treatments.
The relief was restricted by government in 2009 – which the association said has impacted on patients’ willingness to look after their dental health.
Recent figures from the CSO confirmed that average household spending on oral health fell by 60% between 2010 and 2015.