170 operations a day to remove rotten teeth in children, says LGA

New figures show there were nearly 43,000 hospital operations to remove teeth in children and teenagers last year – equating to 170 a day.

The Local Government Association, which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, says the worrying figures – up by nearly a fifth in the past four years – are, in most cases, likely to reflect the excessive consumption of sugary food and drink, as well as poor oral hygiene.

There were 42,911 extractions of multiple teeth in under 18s in England in 2016/17 at a cost of £36.2 million, according to new NHS spending data. This is a 17% increase on the 36,833 in 2012/13. The total cost to the NHS of these operations since 2012 is £165 million.

The severity of the tooth decay means that the treatment has to be undertaken in a hospital under general anaesthetic, rather than a dentist.

The LGA is calling for councils to have a say in deciding where the revenue from the soft drinks levy – due to be introduced in April - is spent and is calling for measures to reduce sugar intake, such as reducing the amount in soft drinks and introducing teaspoon labelling on food packaging to be implemented.

Responding to the data, Professor Russell Viner, Officer for Health Promotion at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said:

“Having a tooth extracted is very serious. There’s the operation itself to consider, the aesthetic along with its associated risks as well as the anxiety operations cause children and their families.

“As many of these operations are due to the food and drink children consume, they are completely preventable and pose an unnecessary financial burden on our overstretched NHS. At a time when we are faced with reports of chronic bed shortages and cancelled operations, these latest startling statistics should act as a wake-up call to policy makers and act as the catalyst for change.

“The RCPCH has long called for bold policies to encourage healthier lifestyles and although some progress has been made – the soft drinks levy and voluntary sugar reformulation programme for example, more needs to be done. To stop the constant bombardment of unhealthy food on children and young people, Government should ban the advertising of foods high in saturated fat, sugar and salt in all broadcast media before 9pm. It should also prevent new fast food shops opening within close proximity to schools and colleges. By making these small changes to the environment we are bound to see a reduction in the number of children that are subjected to these needless operations and the trauma that is associated with them.”