More than 40,000 children and young people a year are having rotten teeth removed in hospital in further evidence of what doctors call the “costly scourge of sugar”.
New NHS figures obtained by the Local Government Association (LGA) show that 40,800 under-18s in England had at least one tooth taken out last year under general anaesthetic because of decay. Performing the procedures cost £35.6m.
The children involved had such advanced decay that they could not be treated by a dentist and had to go to hospital instead. NHS surgeons carried out 161 such operations each working day.
“These figures are a stark reminder of the damage excessive sugar consumption is doing to our children’s teeth,” said councillor Izzi Seccombe, chair of the LGA’s community wellbeing board.
“It is deeply worrying that the type of dental treatment required is beyond the capacity of a local dentist, due to the severity of the tooth decay, and as a result has to be done in hospital,” she added.
The 161 operations a day should serve as “a wake-up call” to ministers to introduce tougher curbs on sugar, not just the planned levy on sugary soft drinks, said Prof Nigel Hunt, the dean of the faculty of dental surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons.
“The awful impact sugar is having on our children’s teeth is brutally evident in the number of under-18s we are seeing daily that need more than one tooth extracted due to tooth decay. It is shameful that a problem which is 90% preventable continues to plague our children in this way,” Hunt said.
“Having teeth removed can be very traumatising for children and requires time away from school for them, as well as time away from work for their parents.
“The government’s sugar tax will go some way to cutting sugar consumption that leads to tooth decay, but it also needs to support public health campaigns that remind parents of good oral health,” Hunt added.
The LGA, which represents councils in England and Wales, wants ministers to let it help decide how proceeds from the sugar tax should be spent.