Over two fifths of children in England have not visited an NHS dentist in the past year, figures show, despite official health advice urging regular check-ups.
More than 6.7 million children visited an NHS dentist in the past 12 months, which is just 57.9% of the child population. This was down from 6.9 million (60%) in the preceding year.
“There is nothing to smile about in these woeful statistics. With the average five-year-old now eating their own body weight in sugar each year, it is alarming that 42.1% of children failed to visit an NHS dentist in the last year,” said Prof Nigel Hunt, dean of the faculty of dental surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons.
“We urge ministers to act. The soft drinks levy, which will be introduced in 2018, provides an opportunity to invest in tackling tooth decay. Some of the revenue raised through it should be spent on oral health improvement programmes.”
The east London borough of Hackney had the lowest proportion in England of children who had visited an NHS dentist – just 31.1% in 2015-16. The areas with the next worst records were all in the capital: Kensington and Chelsea (35.9%), Tower Hamlets (37.6%), Waltham Forest (42%) and Merton (42.8%), the latest dental data from NHS Digital showed.
In contrast, children in South Tyneside were more likely to have visited the dentist last year than those in any other place (81.6%), closely followed by the City of London (79.6%), Bath and North-East Somerset (78.7%) and Cheshire West and Chester (73.3%).
“Tooth decay is a largely preventable disease that can lead to dental problems throughout life,” said Dr Sandra White, director of dental public health at Public Health England. “For children, tooth decay can cause pain, problems with sleep, days off school and problems eating and socialising. Treatment can involve having teeth removed under general anaesthetic.”
She urged parents and carers to help fight tooth decay by ensuring children ate fewer sugary foods and drinks and drank water or milk, and by supervising their tooth-brushing with fluoride toothpaste.
Izzi Seccombe, chair of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said the large number of children not going to the dentist was “deeply worrying”.
Almost half of all adults are also ignoring guidance that they should visit a dentist at least once every two years, according to data released by the NHS.
In all 22.1 million adults, or 51.7% of the population, saw an NHS dentist in the two years ending on 30 June. However, while that was a small increase from the 22 million adults who attended in the two years to June 2015, the percentage who did so in 2014-16 was slightly down on the 52% who attended in 2013-15.
Hospitals in England spent £35m extracting teeth from under-18s in 2014-15, 61% more than was spent five years earlier.
Source: NHS Digital