PREVENTABLE tooth decay caused almost 27,000 children to undergo extractions in hospital, new government figures for England show.
A total of 42,180 hospital tooth extractions were carried out on children aged 0 to 19 in 2021 to 2022, with those in deprived areas 3.5 times more likely to have a tooth extracted than those in the most affluent.
Tooth decay remains the most common reason for hospital admissions in children aged six to 10 years.
The procedures cost the NHS an estimated £81 million in 2021/22, with preventable decay-related extractions alone costing £51 million.
While the figures are lower than pre-Covid tooth extraction rates (which totalled 55,137), they have been described by dental leaders as “shameful”, with fears that pandemic-related backlogs could be masking the true level of demand.
Mr Matthew Garrett, Dean of the Faculty of Dental Surgery, said: “Although we welcome the recovery of services after the pandemic and congratulate the community for their hard work, it is still shameful that preventable tooth decay is causing children to go to hospital and go under general anaesthetic.
“Tooth decay is consistently the main reason children are admitted to hospital and is a clear indicator of health inequalities.” He called on the government to implement a prevention strategy that prioritises children’s oral health.
He added: “By implementing a coherent prevention strategy that includes supervised toothbrushing schemes, and using the upcoming budget to recommit to childhood obesity policies that reduce sugar consumption, millions could be diverted to improve access to dentistry.”
British Dental Association chair Eddie Crouch warned that the scale of problems around child tooth decay could be even higher as practices struggle to recover elective services post-pandemic. He also raised concerns around access to NHS dentistry in England and called for government reform and investment.
He said: "Decay and deprivation are going hand in hand, and this inequality is set to widen.
"None of this is inevitable. This government needs to be willing to take off the gloves when it comes to fighting a wholly preventable disease."
The Oral Health Foundation called for expansion of water fluoridation schemes and improvements to the NHS dental contract. CEO Dr Nigel Carter said: “Unless the proper steps are put in place to reduce the number of decay-related tooth extractions under general anaesthetic in hospitals, these numbers will continue to escalate and place a further strain on an already over-stretched NHS.”
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