‘Two people shorten the road’

As we begin 2023, perhaps an old Irish proverb might be in order…

It’s worth looking at what the future might hold for dentistry in Ireland over the next 12 months, following the tumultuous events of the recent past and their impact on service provision, training and workforce planning.

Following the emergency measures imposed to restrict the spread of Covid, the resultant, pent-up treatment need has kept surgeries busy up and down the country. While this is welcome, and patients are reattending in good numbers, it occurs against a backdrop of uncertainty. There is uncertainty in relation to spiralling energy costs, a potential recession, escalating costs of living and a severe workforce shortage.

Individually, each aspect would prove challenging for any profession but, collectively, it is arduous.

The welcome news that dental surgeries are to be eligible for the Temporary Business Energy Support Scheme (TBESS) was greeted with a sigh of relief among many. The ongoing cost of living increases are, however, mitigating against any meaningful impact this may have. Similarly, the ability to attract and retain our dental nursing colleagues is proving particularly challenging.

Within the new graduate dentist market, we are seeing a swing towards Canada, as our long-standing mutual reciprocation of Irish and Canadian training means many Irish graduates head to the land of the Maple Leaf – and, likewise, many Canadians move here then return.

Recent headlines and discussions in the Dáil all point towards the same conclusion – more dentists are needed. With plans in place for the new Dental School building in Cork and announcements about the expansion of undergraduate intake, the hope is that recruitment needs will be met, albeit over time.

A look at the Register of Dentists will show a significant rise in numbers over the past decade – however, statistics and figures don’t tell the whole story.

With an increasing population and an ageing one at that, treatment needs are increasing both in volume and complexity, as skills in gerodontology become more urgent.

With the failing Dental Treatment Services Scheme, one wonders what provisions will be set in place to meet these ever-growing demands?

The (as yet to be fully implemented) Oral Health Policy (2019) still falls outside the main thrust of Sláintecare and the proposed amendments to the Dentist Act 1985 remain unclear. This also adds to the uncertainty.

However, the basic tenets of general practice remain unchanged. Providing access, delivering high-quality treatment and being available to our patients remains a constant. Recent media coverage about the perils of dental tourism has highlighted once more how treatment at home is almost always the better option. Industry/professional awards continue to demonstrate the high levels of care and continuity found in Ireland, and underline the strong sense of community within dentistry here.

As the dental class of 2023 gets ready to sit their final examinations in June, they enter a world of opportunity for employment, albeit set against the difficulties highlighted. There has been a growing trend within new graduates to remain Associates and not seek the mantle, role or responsibilities of Principle. Given the challenges associated with running a dental practice, it’s not hard to see why the ‘Lifelong Associate’ position holds attraction.

“I see further development in the field of support administrative positions, roles and responsibilities.”

Into this mix comes new auxiliary positions, which until recently were not traditionally found in general practice. The roles of Treatment Coordinator, Practice Manager and other administrative posts are growing – and not before time. While meeting many dentists over the past few months (since the easing of restrictions), a common theme has emerged – the desire to focus solely on clinical practice of dentistry without the headache of the business of dentistry.

My crystal ball might be wrong, but I see further development in the field of support administrative positions, roles and responsibilities in the future.

I understand that a full degree programme for dental nursing is being considered, with a structured pathway for career development in that field. This is most welcome news, as our dental nursing colleagues possess a wealth of practical, clinical and administrative knowledge that will assist every clinician team in helping run a practice.

An old saying (supposedly of Chinese origin, though this is disputed) states: “May you live in interesting times.”

This is particularly true of the past two years. It is heartening to see the solidarity and community within the profession as evidenced by the recent Colgate Awards.

With that in mind, and as we set out down the road of 2023, perhaps an old Irish proverb might be in order, which underlines this sense of community within dentistry in Ireland: “Two people shorten the road.”


A portrait of Dr Paul O'D'wyer wearing a lab coat
Dr Paul O D’wyer

Dr Paul O’ Dwyer BDS MSc (Healthcare Mgmt)

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Published: 16 December, 2022 at 13:01
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