NHS surgeons are performing record numbers of operations to pull out rotten teeth in children.
Hospitals extracted multiple teeth from children and teenagers in England a total of 42,911 times – 170 a day – in 2016-17, according to statistics obtained by the Local Government Association.
That is almost a fifth (17%) more than the 36,833 of those procedures that surgical teams carried out in 2012-13. Each one involves a child having a general anaesthetic and at least two teeth removed.
“These statistics are a badge of dishonour for health ministers, who have failed to confront a wholly preventable disease,” said Mick Armstrong, the chair of the British Dental Association, which represents most of the UK’s dentists.
He condemned “ministerial indifference [to] … the child tooth decay crisis”. Ministers were being “short-sighted” by not taking children’s oral health more seriously. Under-18s in England were receiving “second-class” services to prevent rotten teeth, in contrast to Scotland and Wales, both of which have a dedicated national programme, Armstrong added.
The cost to the NHS of removing severely decayed teeth in under-18s has also escalated over those four years, from £27.3m to £36.2m.
Health campaigners said the “alarming” trend showed children were eating too many sweet foods and should prompt tough action to cut their sugar intake.
“These figures show that we have an oral health crisis and highlight the damage that excessive sugar intake is doing to young people’s health,” said Izzi Seccombe, a councillor and the chair of the LGA’s community wellbeing board.
Children’s poor dental health can limit their ability to eat, play, socialise and speak normally, she added.
The government’s main policy to prevent tooth decay in children most at risk, called Starting Well, was not given new funding and operates only in parts of just 13 local council areas in England, the BDA said.
“This short-sightedness means just a few thousand children stand to benefit from policies that need to be reaching millions,” Armstrong said.
Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the Oral Health Foundation charity, said the rise in childhood teeth extractions was “completely unacceptable” and was causing pain and distress for the under-18s undergoing the procedure.
Dr Sandra White, Public Health England’s director of dental public health, said: “Parents can reduce tooth decay through cutting back on their children’s sugary food and drink, encouraging them to brush their teeth with fluoride toothpaste twice a day, and trips to the dentist as often as advised.”
Prof Russell Viner, officer for health promotion at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said ministers should ban television advertisements for foods high in fat, salt or sugar before the 9pm watershed and stop fast food shops opening near schools and colleges.