The Oral Health Foundation calls for urgent action after a new report by the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities highlights a “catastrophic rise in childhood tooth extractions”.
Figures released by the UK-based charity reveal an 83% increase in the number of 0-19 year-olds being admitted to hospital for tooth extractions under general anaesthetic, due to tooth decay. In total, there were 26,741 tooth extractions on 0–19-year-olds, due to tooth decay between 2021-2022.
According to the report, there are large disparities between areas of the country, for example, Yorkshire and the Humber rates are over five times that of the East Midlands.
The charity believes more education and funding are needed, as well as improved awareness about tooth decay so it can be prevented.
– It is unfair and unjust for even one child to experience dental disease and pain, let alone thousands, Dr Nigel Carter, CEO of the Oral Health Foundation said on the foundation’s website.
– Only 10% of the country has fluoride added to their water, so expanding water fluoridation schemes could help to reduce these disparities in all areas of the UK. Water fluoridation is one of the single most credible and impactful schemes that can have a significant impact on tooth decay.
– The data on children’s general anaesthetic, hospital extractions in non-fluoridated areas versus fluoridated areas is staggering – in fluoridated areas, hospital admissions fall by as much as 68%.
According to the report caries-related tooth extraction rate for children and young people living in the most deprived areas is nearly 3.5 times that of those living in the most affluent areas.
– These figures continue to suggest that the UK is turning into a postcode lottery when it comes to dental access, Dr Carter said in the article.
The differences have been increasingly apparent as NHS dentistry is put under more stress, Dr Carter notes.
– Less NHS dentists, rising populations and dental teams combined with an NHS dental contract that does not work have certainly not helped the situation around the UK.
Tooth removals during childhood cause problems later in in life
The Oral Health Foundation says the number of children and young adults having teeth removed in hospitals is unacceptable. The charity is concerned that too many people believe that having ‘baby’ teeth removed early does not have a long-term impact on the ‘adult’ or permanent teeth.
– If the baby teeth have to be removed early due to decay, this can cause problems with the adult teeth, in the future, Dr Carter says.
– The baby teeth hold the space open for the permanent teeth to move into when they are ready. Without the baby teeth to keep these spaces, the adult teeth often come through in the wrong position. If this happens, the child will need to have orthodontic (braces) treatment, in the future.
Oral Health Foundation recommends brushing teeth for two minutes, last thing at night and at least one other time during the day, using fluoride toothpaste. As children get older, they should start to clean in-between their teeth using interdental brushes, tape, or floss, once a day.
– 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, adds Dr Carter.
– The only way to reduce this burden is to educate all ages, on the causes of dental decay and how to prevent it, with a balanced, healthy diet that is low in sugar and maintain an effective dental hygiene routine at home, and keep an eye on their oral health by visiting their dentist regularly, as often as they recommend.