I thank the Minister of State for attending to take this debate. This issue is not unique to anyone's constituency, but I hope to hear from the Minister of State what I can tell my constituents when they ring my office. I will provide an example and call the woman involved "Mary". That is not her real name, but I am sure she does not want her name used. Mary has multiple sclerosis and lives in Swords. Last June, she needed to attend a dentist. She is a medical card holder and she tried every dentist in her local area, but none of them was taking on new patients and some of them that she had previously attended had since pulled out of the scheme. The story will be similar up and down the State. She rang the HSE and, happy days, it gave her the number of a dentist a small bit outside her area. Remember, this is a woman with a significant and ongoing condition, but she said it was great anyway and she would ring the dentist. My constituency is the largest in Dublin in terms of population as well as geography, but according to the HSE, there is only one dentist in the whole of north County Dublin taking patients with medical cards. Surprise surprise, but he was full and was not taking on any more patients.
From time to time, I advise my constituents to try to attend the Dental Hospital, but that is not really an option. In the interim, routine care is being missed out on. It is not unique to my area, but we have ended up in a situation where our level of extractions is among the highest in Europe. That is because people cannot access dentists before the point where they are up all night with a toothache. I am someone who hates the dentist. Even though I know I should not, I wait until I am up all night with a toothache before going to one. For people who are trying to be proactive about their dental health, there is nothing available.
I want to hear from the Minister of State what I can tell my constituents. I understand that negotiations are ongoing with the Irish Dental Association, but what should someone who needs to see a dentist do in the meantime? I will not go through everything, given that the Minister of State will have heard it all in her own area. What can we tell people who need to access dental treatment but who do not have the necessary means? In some of the newer - I will not say "swankier" - dental practices that are chains, the first thing that people see when they walk in are large signs telling them that there are payment plans. We are in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis and people cannot afford to get their teeth done. They certainly cannot afford to be getting themselves into debt, but they are now at the stage where they have no choice. Getting a loan to have their teeth done and another loan to get them done again is not a feasible option for people on fixed incomes. They have been granted the medical card for a reason, that being, they need it.
I am at my wits' end. When people come to see me, I tell them that I will raise the issue, and I have done so. I have asked a number of parliamentary questions, which the Minister of State will know, as has my colleague, Deputy Cullinane. We have brought the issue to the Government's attention. What should I say to my constituents when they tell me that they are in pain and cannot afford to see a dentist or wait to attend the Dental Hospital?