Speech by Mr Tim O´Malley TD, Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, on the occasion of the Annual Dinner of the Health Board Dental Surgeons

Ladies and Gentlemen

You carry out very important work on behalf of the health boards.

Everyday, you deliver dental services to schoolchildren, to those who have special needs and to people from marginalised backgrounds. Your roles are wide-ranging: from service delivery to planning and evaluating the efficacy of dental services.

Your work in the revised structures of the health board dental services has greatly enhanced the efficiency and effectiveness of those services. I am confident that these revised structures will address the issues of recruitment and retention; they will add to the attraction of the health board dental services as a rewarding career opportunity for dentists.

We know that the level of dental caries prevailing in Ireland has declined in all socio-economic groups. However, children from socially disadvantaged groups, such as low-income, racial and ethnic minorities and people with disabilities, suffer disproportionately from the effects of oral disease. Such inequalities in the dental health of children persist into adulthood.

The Children´s Dental Service and the Dental Treatment Services Scheme are wholly embracing the vision of my Department´s strategy: a dental system that is accessible, fair and that empowers all groups of the community to achieve their full oral health potential.

Embracing this vision means participating in a system that is people-centred and that responds to the needs of the individual. This people-centred focus drives quality and accountability dimensions as underlying principles of the strategy.

We are committed to further embracing these principles, especially in areas where you as dental surgeons have managerial responsibility under the revised structure I have already mentioned. The Dental Treatment Services Scheme is one such example.

Our evaluation of dental services is continuing under the Epidemiology contracts previously awarded. The Preliminary Report of the North South Survey of Children´s Oral Health was recently launched. In addition, other research contracts – such as those examining both fluoridation and the Dental Treatment Services Scheme – are in their final stages of completion.

We have already welcomed the publication of the report of the Forum on Fluoridationand the implementation of its recommendations is our next challenge.

We can all look forward to the publication of the preliminary results of the Adult Dental Health Survey. This important research will tell us more about the impact of the Dental Treatment Services Scheme on the oral health status of those who get their treatment under the scheme.

This point is significant since the Adult Dental Health Survey of 1990 pointed to a disparity in the oral health status between medical card holders and the socially insured population. The purpose of the scheme is to reduce the inequality between the two groups. The results will greatly help us assess whether we have achieved this objective.

I know that this evaluation of the dental service could not be undertaken successfully without your co-operation and dedication. I acknowledge your significant contribution to this important work. Ultimately, this research will greatly contribute to the future evolution of dental services in Ireland. You will be closely involved in the consultation process that will arise from any proposed changes, especially when the final shape of the restructuring process becomes clearer.

We have developed the specialty of Orthodontics. We have sponsored the training of eighteen dentists for Specialists in Orthodontics qualifications at universities in Ireland, England and Wales. These training programmes and the introduction of the Specialist in Orthodontics grade in the health boards will have a tremendous impact on the delivery of orthodontic services. We are watching the development of this specialty closely.

I am very pleased to be here with you this evening and I would like to thank Dr Margie Houlihan for her kind invitation. I hope you enjoy the rest of your evening.