Hundreds of dentists have dropped out of a scheme to treat medical card patients, according to new figures.

In the past year 250 dentists have stopped treating patients with medical cards, and since 2015 there are 600 fewer dentists operating the scheme.

The figures, which were released in a parliamentary question to the Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane, show there are just 1,247 dentists with medical card contracts in the State. This compares to 1,847 in 2015.

In counties Kerry and Clare the numbers of such dentists have almost halved, while in parts of Dublin, Sligo, Leitrim and Mayo the number of such dentists operating the scheme as dropped by more than 40%.

There are also significant problems in Wicklow, Waterford and Louth.

The decline in the number of dentists has made it more difficult for people on lower incomes, or people with medical conditions, to access dental care.

Fintan Hourihan, Chief Executive of the Irish Dental Association, told RTÉ's This Week dentists are leaving the scheme "out of frustration with the State."

He said in the past year dentists have incurred additional operating costs because of the Covid-19 Pandemic.

"They were also promised PPE equipment last June, and it hasn’t materialised, and for many that was the last straw," he said.

"I believe we are past the point of rescuing this scheme, we need an entirely new approach. We have been constantly pleading for discussions with the Department of Health and they are not showing any urgency."

Sinn Féin’s health spokesman David Cullinane said the figures show dentists are dropping out of this scheme "at a rate of knots".

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"There are difficulties with the scheme, and there needs to be a negotiation with dentists, but the consequence for medical card patients is that it is impossible for them to get treatment as more and more dentists drop off the scheme."

"This is now a full-blown crisis, many people are having to travel long distances to get treatment and are waiting a long time to be seen," he said.

Separate figures show that there are 771 people waiting for dental surgery, with almost half of those waiting more than a year for a procedure.

There are a further 3,775 people waiting to see a dental consultant, with more than 70% of those people on waiting lists for over a year.