UP TO a million cash-strapped consumers are postponing dental treatments because of cutbacks to State schemes.
Patients are waiting until they feel pain before going to the dentist, which has resulted in a 93pc increase in the number of tooth extractions and a rise in gum disease and dental infections.
Nine in 10 dentists have reported a drop in attendances at their clinics. But 92pc have seen an increase in gum disease and 84pc have found a rise in dental infections.
Almost eight in 10 dentists say there has been an increase in the number of patients presenting with pain and the majority of professionals say State schemes are not now fit for purpose.
The dental crisis is starkly outlined in a survey of more than 300 dentists, carried out on behalf of the Irish Dental Association and published today.
It found that almost one in three people had postponed treatment because of restrictions to the Medical Card and PRSI schemes.
A similar number -- equating to 1.1 million people -- said they expected to visit the dentist less frequently from now on due to the cutbacks.
Head of the IDA's General Practice Group, Dr Peter Gannon, described the findings as "alarming".
Continuing lack of clarity over entitlements meant large numbers of people were neglecting their dental health and only visiting their dentist when forced to do so by pain.
"I am concerned that we are returning to the days of extractions and dentures," said Dr Gannon.
"We know already that dental decay is the most common chronic disease affecting Irish children and these findings indicate that dental decay, gum disease and dental infections are rising across all age groups.
"It's clear a 'silent epidemic' of dental and oral disease is affecting a significant proportion of the population and this underlines the need for people to prioritise their oral health," he said.
Dr Gannon called on the Government to commit extra resources to both schemes immediately, to introduce a National Oral Health Policy and appoint a Chief Dental Officer to the Department of Health.