Dentists have accused the government of having a “short-sighted” approach to tooth decay in England after hospital operations to remove children’s teeth increased to nearly 43,000.
There were 42,911 operations in 2016-17 – up from 40,800 the previous year and 36,833 in 2012-13, NHS figures show.
The British Dental Association said England had a “second-class” dental service compared to Wales and Scotland.
The government said it was “determined” to reduce the number of extractions.
Doctors said many of the tooth extractions would be caused by the food and drink children consume and were therefore “completely preventable”.
Dental surgeon Claire Stevens, who works in a hospital in north-west England, said most of her patients were aged five to nine, but it was not uncommon to remove all 20 baby teeth from a two-year-old because of decay.
She said she has also extracted a 14-year-old’s permanent teeth due to fizzy drinks. They then needed false teeth.
An analysis of NHS figures by the Local Government Association, which represents councils in England and Wales, found the equivalent of 170 hospital tooth extractions a day were being carried out on under-18s.
These are done in hospital under general anaesthetic, rather than at a dental practice.
The operations would have cost the NHS about £36m last year and £165m since 2012, the LGA found.
Mick Armstrong, chairman of the BDA, said: “These statistics are a badge of dishonour for health ministers, who have failed to confront a wholly preventable disease.
“Tooth decay is the number one reason for child hospital admissions, but communities across England have been left hamstrung without resources or leadership.”
The BDA said England was receiving a “second-class service” because, unlike Wales and Scotland, it has no dedicated national child oral health programme.
It said the government’s centrepiece policy Starting Well – aimed at improving oral health outcomes for “high-risk” children – had received no new funding and was operating in parts of just 13 local authorities in England.
“The BDA has insisted that national authorities must provide resources to enable all children in England to benefit,” it said.
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said the figures were “startling” and “should act as a wake-up call to policy makers and act as the catalyst for change”.
The LGA said the data demonstrated the “urgent need to introduce measures to curb our sugar addiction which is causing children’s teeth to rot”.
The Royal College of Surgeons said the statistics were “alarming” and called for supervised tooth brushing sessions in all nursery schools across England.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said it was “determined to reduce the number of children having teeth extracted because of tooth decay” and pointed to its sugar tax, which comes into effect in April on soft drinks with the most added sugar.
“Our world-class NHS dentists are also playing a vital role to improve dental hygiene – in the last year 6.8 million children were seen by a dentist, representing 58.5% of the child population,” she said.
The spokesman added that the Starting Well programme was introduced last year to improve the oral health of children most at risk in 13 high priority areas and NHS England was planning to expand the programme to other areas.
Dr Sandra White, director of dental public health at Public Health England, said parents could reduce tooth decay through cutting back on their children’s sugary food and drink and encouraging them to brush their teeth with fluoride toothpaste twice a day, as well as regular trips to the dentist.
Government initiatives in Scotland and Wales are said to be behind their falling rates of tooth decay in young children.
In Scotland, the Childsmile programme is claimed to have cut £5m off treatment costs and the Designed to Smile programme in Wales has helped reduce decay among five-year-olds in deprived areas.
A debate on children’s dental examinations and treatment is due to take place in the House of Lords on 18 January.
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