Thousands of children, most of them under 10, are having teeth extracted in hospital because of decay. It is the most common reason for children between 5 and 9 to be admitted to hospital.
While many extractions take place in a dental surgery more difficult cases or ones where multiple teeth need to be removed are often referred to hospital. This is more common in younger children where a general anesthetic may be needed to perform the procedure.
London has one of the poorest records in England. Data gathered from dental hospitals for each local authority across the country for 2013-14 shows that 0.7% of under 19s in the capital were admitted to have a tooth or multiple teeth removed due to decay. That’s 13,787 children and teenagers. The figures do not include surgery on impacted wisdom teeth, often treated in hospital, which affects those over 18.
Improvements in dentistry and people’s care of their teeth mean that extractions are far less common than in the past but they are the only solution if a tooth cannot be repaired by a filling or a root canal.
The record in London is much worse that elsewhere in the South of England. In the South East region it is just 0.3% of children. Only Yorkshire and Humberside has a higher rate than London.
Rates are markedly higher in some parts of the capital – indicated by the darker area on the map. In Hammersmith and Fulham 1.2% of children ended up in hospital for an extraction. In neighbouring Richmond it is just 0.4%.
The leading cause of tooth decay is frequent exposure to sugary drinks and snacks. Poor dental hygiene and failure to use fluoride toothpaste are also to blame. But Public Health England says that there is a correlation between levels of dental decay and levels of deprivation.
Its survey of levels of tooth decay in under 5s, published in 2013, showed that as with the figures on extractions, London had one of the poorest records, along with Yorkshire, Humberside and the North West.
33% of under 5s in London were found to have dental decay compared to a national average of 27%. But in Brent and Tower Hamlets the rate was 46% while in Kingston and Richmond it was below 20%.
The survey showed that the rate of dental decay had improved since the previous study in 2008 in every region except London.
Dental decay remains a significant public health problem and the NHS recommends that all children should have a dental check up once a year to prevent serious cases of decay going untreated and leading to extractions.