Demand for subsidised dental treatments has been rising significantly. Dental attendances at polyclinics have gone up from 149,000 in 2013 to 179,000 last year.
On top of that, last year there were more than half a million subsidised attendances at the 700 dental clinics under the Community Health Assist Scheme (Chas), where the Government pays part of the bill for cardholders and pioneers.
In Parliament yesterday, Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) asked if waiting times at polyclinics could be reduced. Senior Minister of State for Health Lam Pin Min said most dental conditions are "diagnosed and treated at the same sitting".
But a minority who need more extensive treatments are given an appointment and when that is depends on "the urgency of the condition". The Ministry of Health (MOH) is also expanding public sector dental capacity, given the rising demand.
"This includes building more dental facilities in upcoming new polyclinics, such as Punggol Polyclinic, as well as expanding existing polyclinic dental facilities," said Dr Lam.
"We will continue to monitor and meet the primary dental care needs of Singaporeans through both our polyclinics and Chas dental clinics."
Ms Lee then asked about the long waits for subsidised specialist treatment: "I was told by my residents that National Dental Centre (NDC) is very short-handed and the waiting time can be more than a year... I think a year is a little bit too long."
Dr Lam assured her that this is being addressed. The NDC is being expanded as part of the redevelopment of the Outram campus, and the National University Centre for Oral Health will open in 2019.
As an interim measure, Khoo Teck Puat Hospital has been offering subsidised root canal treatments, dentures, crowns and bridges since 2011 for patients referred by polyclinics.
Ms Lee then asked if similar subsidised treatments can be offered at other public hospitals. Dr Lam replied that MOH prefers to consolidate "manpower as well as speciality resources". Doing so also allows for training of dental students, he said.