Twice as many children under the age of 10 receive hospital treatment for tooth decay as those treated for broken arms, figures for England show.
The Guardian reported that there were 34,205 cases of patients under 10 needing hospital treatment for dental caries in the year to March, the youngest less than a year old, according to the faculty of dental surgery (FDS) at the Royal College of Surgeons.
Over the same period, there were 17,043 broken arms, as well as 19,584 cases of asthma, 10,397 cases of epilepsy and 3,805 cases of appendicitis needing hospital treatment in the age group, according to analysis of NHS Digital data.
Tooth decay is the most common reason that children between five and nine need treatment in hospital, with 25,923 cases within this age group in 2016-17, up slightly from 25,875 the previous year.
Prof Michael Escudier, Dean of the FDS, said: “Sometimes this can be unavoidable, but when it comes to admissions caused by tooth decay, most cases are a result of simple preventative steps not being taken.
“Tens of thousands of children every year are having to go through the distressing experience of having teeth removed under general anaesthetic. Reducing sugar consumption, regularly brushing teeth with fluoride toothpaste and routine dental visits will all help ensure this is avoided.”
The FDS says tooth decay is preventable in 90% of cases but many children are not going to the dentist, with parents often unaware that it is free for the under-18s. In all, there were 45,224 cases of children up to 19 who needed hospital treatment because of tooth decay in 2016-17.
Among 10- to-14-year-olds, admissions rose from 7,249 the previous year to 7,303. But there was better news among children aged one to four, with the number requiring treatment falling from 8,800 to 8,281.
The British Dental Association blamed the figures on a lack of a coherent national strategy to tackle the problem.
Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen, the BDA’s chair of general dental practice, said: “These shocking statistics are rooted in an abject failure by government to tackle a preventable disease.
“While we are hearing positive noises, ministers have not met words with action. Scotland and Wales have dedicated national programmes to improve children’s oral health, England has been offered a new logo and limited action in a handful of council wards.
“It’s a scandal that when some local authorities are doing sterling work, others are sitting on their hands while Westminster offers radio silence.”
The FDS has backed a campaign from the British Society of Paediatric Dentistry, calling for all children to receive a dental check by the age of one.
Analysis by the faculty this year showed that nearly four in five children between one and two years old had not seen an NHS dentist in the previous 12 months.
Escudier said dental visits at an early age enabled children, as well as their parents and carers, to learn about good oral health practice and helped them become less fearful of visiting the dentists when they are older.
Steve McCabe, who is leading an MPs’ debate on child oral health in Westminster Hall on Tuesday, described the situation as frightening.
The Labour MP for Birmingham Selly Oak said: “Apart from the fact that this is costing the NHS rather a lot of money, it is clearly not very healthy for our children.
“It would appear that there are a mixture of factors involved. It’s partly sugar in the diet, but it’s also the lack of visits to the dentist and this is possibly parental ignorance about the need and also some doubts about what dentists will provide.”
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “Improving oral health in children is a priority for this government – latest figures show 6.8 million children were seen by a dentist in England over the past year.
“Last month, NHS England began its Starting Well programme that targeted 13 high-need areas to improve dental hygiene in children under five. Further work is also underway to ensure dental services meet the needs of the local population.”