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Dentist queues as long as 8 months in some areas of Finland

In some areas, basic dental care appointments can be made within a month but waiting times in many other regions are much longer, according to Lännen Media.

Ientaskumittari ja peili hammaslääkärin kädessä.
File photo. Image: Matti Myller / Yle

A survey by the Lännen Media newspaper group finds that many Finnish residents seeking basic dental care must wait longer than the mandated maximum period of six months.

On average, the survey found that waiting times for basic dental care ranged from two to four months, but that queues were significantly shorter for people in need of emergency dental care.

To determine regional waiting times for basic services, the media group sent 145 questionnaires to people in leading positions at municipal dental care facilities. Some 53 percent of the respondents answered.

According to those responses, the longest queues for dental checkups were in the south-central city of Tampere, the southern municipality of Raseborg, and in areas of central Ostrobothnia served by the social and health care services agency Soite.

The survey found waiting times for basic dental care in those regions frequently exceeded six months. Finland passed legislation in 2005 to tackle long waiting times for public health services, imposing a six-month "care guarantee". If patients have to wait more than six months to see a public health care professional, they then have the right to seek subsidised care from another municipality or from a private provider.

Last week Yle News published a story about the relatively poor dental hygiene habits of people in Finland. The story noted that one in every five adults in Finland reports that delays in getting basic dental care play a role in their reluctance to seek treatment.

Significant regional differences

Depending on the region, average dentist queue times vary greatly in Finland.

In Uusimaa, home to the Helsinki region, waiting times range between 2-4 months while in Raseborg they can be 6-8 months.

However, queues are shorter in Southwest Finland. For example queues range between 1-2 months in Pargas and Kimitoön, while people in the city of Turku usually wait less than a month for an appointment.

The survey also asked the dental care chiefs whether they felt there were adequate numbers of dentists in their regions. Respondents from smaller municipalities often said it was challenging to recruit dentists for their regions, while around a third said it was not easy to attract an adequate number of dentists.

Lännen Media reported that the queues in central Ostrobothnia began to grow in 2017 when Soite took over dental care in the regions it serves.

The chief dentist at Soite, Martti Lilja, told the news outlet that part of the problem is that there are not as many private dentistry services in the area, which would reduce the pressure on public services.

"In terms of demand, we should have more resources," Lilja said.

However, the situation in other parts of Ostrobothnia is slightly better, according to the news group. For example waiting times in Korsholm range from 4-6 months while patients commonly wait about 2-4 months in Jakobstad.

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