The crisis in our dental care has been discussed many times in the Chamber over the past number of months. The crisis is getting worse. The most recent estimates state that only 750 dentists remain in the dental treatment services scheme, DTSS. That is less than half the number in the scheme prior to Covid-19. Covid-19 is not the reason these dentists have exited the scheme, which covers medical card clients. Covid-19 has exacerbated this crisis, as has been the case in many areas. We are now left with a situation whereby those most vulnerable in society, who have the least discretionary funding or zero discretionary funding, are forced into a position where they must pay out of pocket for emergency dental procedures. Anyone in this Chamber, in this building or in this country who has had a toothache knows how painful it is. To have that and be unable to get treatment, to have to pay out of pocket, get loans from family to get dental extractions, is untenable and is something we cannot stand over.
It is more complex than that. I have an email from Lauren who writes on behalf of her brother, Philip, who has Down's syndrome. Philip, along with many others who have disabilities in Ireland, has major dental issues. He has no adult teeth and it is, therefore, crucial to maintain the teeth he has now. This is made more difficult due to frequent antibiotic use. The family has been informed by the HSE that dental care has ceased for individuals aged over 18 with intellectual disabilities. It has pulled funding from dentists who specialise in dentistry for people with additional needs. Given the ongoing medical card crisis, the family cannot access a dentist or a hygienist. That is just one example of the pain that a family goes through trying to access basic dental care for someone who needs it.
I have referred to the lack of access to dentists and the number of dentists who have exited the scheme. A woman in Swords advises that nobody is taking on medical card holders in the town at the moment. A woman in Swords contacted me. She is a wheelchair user. Her ability to navigate Swords is difficult, never mind having to get out to try to find a new dentist and get the much-needed care she needs. Today the Labour Party has tabled a motion on the cost of living. This is one of the many additional emergency much-needed costs that cannot be put off. Oral health is linked to good physical health. People cannot put off the care they require and they have to get loans from family for this. There is a crisis in north County Dublin and all over the country. The representative body for dentists has been seeking a meeting with the Department to discuss the DTSS, how it can be reformed and how we can get dentists back into it. This has reached crisis levels. Will the Minister of State give an update as to how she is going to resolve this and where we are in discussions with the industry? When will we be in a position where the most vulnerable in society are able to get quick access to dental treatment when they need it?