Over 100 children a day were admitted to hospital last year to have their teeth pulled out under general anaesthetic, official figures show.
The Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) show there were 47,581 tooth extractions in NHS hospitals in England for patients aged 0 to 19.
This is equivalent to 119 a day, assuming a five day working week.
Some 66 per cent of extractions – or 31,165 – were due to a primary diagnosis of tooth decay, up 17 per cent from the previous 12 months.
Hospital admissions for childhood tooth extractions cost NHS hospitals £64.3million last year, with decay-related extractions costing £40.7million.
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The decay-related extraction rate for children living in the most deprived communities was nearly 3.5-times that of those living in the most affluent communities.
And tooth decay was still the most common reason for hospital admission in children aged between 5 and 9 years.
The data also showed regional disparities in decay-related extractions, with Yorkshire and the Humber reporting 405 cases per 100,000 children – the highest figure – and the East Midlands 80 per 100,000 – the lowest.
OHID said the overall year-on-year rise ‘is likely to reflect a continuing recovery of hospital services following the Covid-19 pandemic’.
David Fothergill, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: ‘These stark figures reveal that a lack of access to affordable dentistry is having a worrying impact on the state of children’s teeth.
‘The fact that, due to the severity of the decay, on average 119 operations are taking place each day to remove decaying teeth in children and teenagers is concerning and also adds to current pressures on our health service.
‘Untreated dental care remains one of the most prevalent diseases affecting children and young people’s ability to speak, eat, play and socialise.’
Dr Charlotte Eckhardt, dean of the faculty of dental surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said: ‘The latest figures are a sobering reminder of the prevalence of tooth decay, something which is largely preventable.
‘Children and young people should be encouraged to brush their teeth regularly with fluoride toothpaste, visit the dentist, and cut down on sugary foods that can lead to decay.’
Publication of the data comes after the Government unveiled its £200 million plan to bolster NHS dentistry in England.
The proposals include £20,000 bonuses for dentists working in under-served communities in a bid to increase appointment capacity by 2.5 million next year.
Mobile dental teams will be deployed to schools in under-served areas to give 165,000 children preventative fluoride varnish treatments to strengthen their teeth and prevent decay.
And there will be consultation on adding fluoride to mains water supplies.
However, the plan fails to include a national rollout of supervised toothbrushing in schools, which has been proposed by Labour.
Eddie Crouch, chairman of the British Dental Association (BDA), warned ‘the oral health gap is widening for our youngest patients, and it won’t be halted by holding another consultation’.
‘Ministers are trying to turn supervised brushing into a political football,’ he said.
‘They need to grow up, and double down on tried and tested programmes.
‘That means real commitment and ambition, comprehensively funded. So, the precise opposite of the plans we’ve seen this week.’
In Bristol earlier this week, hundreds of people queued outside a dental practice after it opened its books for NHS patients.
Desperate Brits this week queued outside a newly-opened NHS dental surgery. In scenes illustrating the appointments crisis plaguing the country, hundreds lined up outside Saint Pauls Dental Practice in Bristol from the crack of dawn in the hope of securing a spot on their books
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Speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Health Secretary Victoria Atkins said: ‘We know that too many, particularly those living in rural or coastal communities, are still struggling to find appointments.’
She added: ‘This recovery plan will put this right by making NHS dental care faster, simpler and fairer for patients and staff.’
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak described the package as a ‘very significant new investment’.
He today said it will ‘make a significant difference, and quickly’.
Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the Oral Health Foundation, said: ‘To combat childhood tooth decay, the implementation of preventive policies such as water fluoridation and comprehensive toothbrushing programmes is imperative.
‘The government must step up efforts to enhance dental access nationwide, ensuring that every child has the opportunity to receive routine dental care.’
Daisy Cooper, Liberal Democrat’s health spokesperson, said: ‘Tooth decay disrupts lives and is often easily preventable. Parents shouldn’t be forced to see their children in pain.’
Wes Streeting, Labour’s health spokesperson, said: ‘Tens of thousands of children were forced to hospital with rotting teeth last year, and the problem is getting worse.
‘Not only is this harming children’s start to life, it’s costing the NHS through the nose.
‘The NHS asked for supervised toothbrushing for 3 to 5 year-olds, but Conservative Ministers put ideology over children’s health and blocked it.
‘Labour will give every child a healthy start to life, delivering supervised toothbrushing for 3-5 year-olds, because prevention is better than cure.’