School dental screening services for children here are "virtually non-existent" the Irish Dental Association has said, with backlogs of almost ten years in some parts of the country.

It said children who should be receiving three check-ups in primary school are not being seen now until fourth year in secondary school, and that some are then facing numerous extractions and even root canal treatment in their teens or early adulthood as a result of the delay.

The association has blamed understaffing and a lack of resources for the delays, pointing to a 22% fall in the number of public-only dentists since 2006, from 330 to 254.

It has urged the HSE to hire 76 dentists immediately in order to bring the schools screening service back to the level it was at 15 years ago.

It also said a two-year-long waiting list for treatments requiring general anaesthetic means dentists are being forced to choose which children they believe are suffering the most pain in order to treat them ahead of patients who may have already been waiting months or years.

It says this is leading to high levels of stress and burnout among dentists.

Irish Dental Association Chief Executive Fintan Hourihan has described as "shameful" the fact that children, special care and other vulnerable patients are not receiving the dental care they are entitled to.

He said many would suffer unnecessarily later in life as a result.

"The simple solution is to adequately staff and resource our Public Dental Service. Too many children are slipping through the cracks, despite all the evidence showing that the younger a child is when they are first examined, the less likely the need for major treatment or extractions later," he said.

"Dentists, however, are reporting seeing older children who are requiring three or four extractions and root canal treatment. This cannot be allowed to continue.

"We are urging the Government to address this as a critical priority to ensure children are receiving the care they are entitled to under our public dental system and at the earliest opportunity to save them from unnecessary and drastic treatments later."

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr Hourihan said the service has "completely collapsed" and "despite lip service" nothing is being done to deal with the issue and the most vulnerable are suffering.

He said many of these patients do not have the option of opting for private care and said he is sceptical of recent Government announcements regarding commitment to spending, which he said he believes is being " set aside to prop up" the medical card scheme for adults.

Dentists who work in the public service are meeting in Portlaoise today to discuss these and other issues at a gathering organised by the Irish Dental Association.

TD calls for ministerial intervention

The exodus of dentists from the Dental Treatment Services Scheme requires an immediate intervention from the Minister for Health, according to Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall.

Ms Shortall said that HSE figures show that the number of dentists in the scheme has dropped by over a third in five years.

"These figures show that 604 dentists have left the scheme since January 2017, and since January 2021, 251 dentists have left," Ms Shiortall said.

She said the number of dentists in the scheme has halved since 2021 in Wexford, Meath and Laois/Offaly, while in southeast Dublin only seven dentists remain in the scheme - down from 47 in 2016.

"In some areas, the situation is particularly stark. The number of dentists participating in the scheme has halved since 2021 in Wexford, Meath and Laois/Offaly, while in Dublin South East, only seven dentists remain in the scheme, a drop of 47 since 2016.

Tanáiste Leo Varadkar has indicated that professionals such as dentists will be able to avail of the Budget 2023 scheme aimed at helping businesses cope with energy costs.

€1.25bn was allocated for the scheme, but Finance Minister Pashcal Donohoe believes this will need to be topped up to expand the range of applicants.

Details will be revealed in the Finance Bill which goes to Cabinet on Tuesday.