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Preschool tooth extractions rise by a quarter

Dentists demand action on ‘scourge of sugar on children’s teeth’ and preventable decay

Louise Prime

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Dentists are calling on parents and the government to take stronger action against preventable dental decay and the “devastating effect” of sugar on children’s teeth, as they reported a “shocking” increase in the number of dental extractions in 0-4-year-olds over the past decade. They also demanded that a significant proportion of the money raised through the government’s sugar levy be spent on oral health education.

The Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons used a Freedom of Information request to access NHS Digital’s figures on the number of tooth extractions performed on 0-4-year-olds in hospitals in England over the past decade; this is the first time that long-term data for 0-4-year-olds have been published.

The figures revealed that there were 84,086 procedures carried out on 0-4-year-olds between 2006/07 and 2015/16, and a “shocking” rise of 24% over the past decade. The Faculty pointed out that this steep increase compares with a 16% increase in the population of 0-4-year-olds over the same period.

Dentists’ leaders have appealed to the government as well as parents to “take stronger action against the scourge of sugar on children’s teeth”. Professor Nigel Hunt, dean of the Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons, said: “It [is] abundantly clear that the sweet habits of our children are having a devastating effect on the state of their teeth. That children as young as one or two need to have teeth extracted is shocking. It’s almost certain that the majority of these extractions will be down to tooth decay caused by too much sugar in diets.”

He added: “Removal of teeth, especially in hospital under general anaesthetic, is not to be taken lightly … how teeth are looked after in childhood impacts oral health in adulthood. Baby teeth set the pattern for adult teeth, including tooth decay.”

Tooth extractions in 0-9-year-old children have also soared – there were 34,788 extractions in 2014/15 and 34,003 in 2015/16, more than at any other point in the past decade.

Professor Hunt commented: “What is really distressing about these figures is that 90% of tooth decay is preventable through reducing sugar consumption, regular brushing with fluoride toothpaste and routine dental visits. Despite NHS dental treatment being free for under-18s, 42% of children did not see a dentist in 2015/16.”

He pointed out that sugar has an almost immediate damaging impact on teeth, and argued that teaching parents and children to cut down on sweet treats and look after their teeth properly, would have a positive effect on childhood obesity rates as well as dental health. He said: “We’d like to see a significant proportion of the money raised through the government’s sugar levy spent on oral health education.”

The government will set out detailed legislation for the Soft Drinks Industry Levy in the Finance Bill 2017, and implementation of the levy is expected from April 2018 onwards.

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