Speech by Micheál Martin, Minister for Health and Children Launch of the Preliminary Report of the North/South Survey of Children’s Oral Health 2002

Ladies and Gentlemen

I am very pleased to be here today to launch the Preliminary Report of the North South Survey of Children´s Oral Health 2002.

I would like to acknowledge the huge work undertaken by the Oral Health Services Research Centre here in University College in leading out this project. Of course, the survey could not have been undertaken successfully without the co-operation of a broad range of stakeholders across the health and education sectors and I would like to acknowledge the tremendous co-operation and effort of all those involved.

I very much welcome the North/South dimension of this project. I understand that this is the first occasion a concurrent oral health survey has taken place covering children North and South. I hope that the high level of co-operation in oral health will continue and be an example of what we can achieve together in our mutual interest.

The survey is a very important element in the development of oral health care in Ireland. The National Health Strategy envisages the development of new goals for oral health following a review of the Dental Health Action Plan. The data which this survey will provide will be crucial to that process; just as the results of the 1984 National Survey of Children´s Dental Health in Ireland has contributed to the formulation of dental health policy over the last twenty years.

The preliminary results are encouraging and at the same time challenging in many respects. The overall objectives of the 1994 Dental Health Action Plan were to reduce the level of dental disease in children; to improve the level of oral health in the population overall and to provide adequate treatment services to children, medical card holders and persons over 70.

Under the Dental Health Action Plan, the public dental services have been expanded. With particular reference to children, we extended the eligibility for public dental services to children aged twelve to sixteen years. We planned and funded this development in partnership with health boards.

Our efforts have been rewarded: the preliminary results show that 12 year old children – one of the key age groups – have significantly lower levels of dental decay compared with earlier studies when our strategy for the dental services was formulated.

The preliminary results are challenging in respect of children under five years, where our concern that this age group continues to be exposed to unhealthy dietary practices and inadequate oral hygiene appears to be confirmed by the survey evidence.

The equitable delivery of care to all groups is a key goal of the national health strategy as noted in your report. In that context my Deopartment will examine closely the report’s findings in relation to disease levels in, and uptake of services by, children identified as disadvantaged.

I look forward to receiving the final reports of this survey, the adult oral health survey and also the sub surveys of children and adults with special needs. I am confident that your findings will greatly contribute to the future evolution of dental services in Ireland.

The progress that has been achieved to date has been achieved by co-operation across the key players in public dentistry working towards a common goal: improved oral health for all. I look forward and have confidence in your continued co-operation in respect of this goal.