I am concerned about the existing dental services in south Galway and particularly in the Gort area. Having spoken to the general public in that area, I know that it was a very good service in south Galway. It was always important for a dentist or a nurse to visit a primary school, and the more medical professionals that can call to schools the better. We have learned that prevention is the best cure and it is good for a young person to have a meeting with a dentist in a school setting. Teachers have told me that such visits have always focused on children in second and fifth class, but sadly this is not happening now. Many parents and teachers have asked me what happens when a child is in pain and needs fillings or sealants, and I wish to raise the issue of staffing in this regard. Another important point is whom one deals with when trying to get detailed information about dental services, particularly in south Galway.
What I am raising is relevant to any part of the country, but there was a good service in south Galway and there is a justifiable demand. Consequently, there is a need to restore that dental service. I hope that more resources can be allocated to the school dental service. It is an important issue in dealing with the alleviation of toothache and other dental problems for young people. If such visits and examinations are taking place in primary schools, eligible children could also be put on the list for orthodontic treatment. We are all aware of the support for young people’s confidence and self-esteem provided by orthodontic treatment, including braces.
All branches of medicine remind us of the importance of early detection, which is crucial in fighting tooth decay. That is why the provision of these inspections and examinations in school are most important for children who may otherwise not get to see a dentist. If this service was affordable 50 years ago, surely it should be available today. We all know of the risks to heart and body associated with tooth infections, so oral hygiene and care are best learned in early life.
In Gort in the past, children were referred to a centre or the nearest hospital, which could be University Hospital Galway or Merlin Park Hospital in Galway, while children in east Galway were often referred to Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe. This service was much appreciated and I hope it will continue to be made available to young people.
I understand that previously two classes in each school were prioritised and the children in those classes were prioritised for treatment. While I welcome what has been said in respect of Tuam and the services in Galway city, south Galway is still an issue. This is the reason I am raising the matter. We need a dental clinic providing services there.
There is also a need for information to be provided to the public on what is available. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of the school visit for cases requiring treatment and for those who need to be included on the orthodontic treatment list. There is a long waiting list for orthodontic treatment in Galway, particularly in south Galway.
It is unusual that we have orthodontic and dental treatment operating under two different sections of the HSE. The primary care sector deals with dental treatment while the hospital group – Saolta, in the case of Galway – deals with orthodontics. The practical problem is that when we have discussions with the primary care team in Galway, we can only talk about the particular issue of dental treatment. By the way, we are glad to be invited to such discussions. However, orthodontics is an issue we deal with through the hospital group. That could be looked at again.
I hope that the recruitment the Minister has referred to will improve the situation for the next school year. Moreover, I hope younger children will not be forgotten when the Minister puts a priority on sixth class children in all Galway schools. As we all know, prevention is the best way of dealing with tooth decay. The earlier we can intervene, the better. It is important that younger children are screened as well.