To coincide with the parliamentary debate in October on child tooth decay, the Faculty of Dental Surgery published new analysis showing that twice as many under-10s were admitted to hospital for tooth decay as for broken arms in 2016-17.

Child with rotten teethThere were 34,205 hospital admissions because of decay in the last year, compared to 17,043 for arm fractures. These are shocking figures and follow on from the 2015 publication of The state of children’s oral health in England.

This report stated that approximately 46,500 children and young people under 19 were admitted to hospital for a primary diagnosis of dental caries in 2013–14. (Dental caries is the scientific term for tooth decay or cavities. It is caused by specific types of bacteria. They produce acid that destroys the tooth’s enamel and the layer under it, the dentine.)

These numbers were highest in the five- to nine-year-old age group, which showed a 14 per cent increase between 2010–11 and 2013–14, from 22,574 to 25,812.

The second highest admissions in 2013–14 were for tonsillitis, with approximately 11,500 cases, making dental caries by far the most common reason for children aged between five and nine to be admitted to hospital.

age group

What can parents, carers, and children do to maintain children’s oral health?

It has been estimated that around 90 per cent of dental caries is preventable, so keeping teeth and gums as healthy as possible can significantly reduce their likelihood. Moreover, tooth decay may not cause any symptoms until it has reached an advanced stage, so it is vital to visit the dentist regularly. Parents and carers of children should adhere to the following basic oral health and prevention guidance:

  1. Register children with a dentist as soon as the first teeth appear and visit regularly, as often as they recommend. NICE recommends that children visit the dentist at least once every year.
  2.  Brush teeth with fluoride toothpaste for two minutes twice a day and supervise children’s tooth brushing until they are at least eight years old.
  3. Ensure a healthy diet and limit consumption of sugary or acidic food and drinks to mealtimes. Even fruit juice is acidic and high in sugars, so parents should try to give young children only water or milk.
  4. Aim to introduce drinking from a free-flow cup when children are 6 months old and stop bottle feeding from 12 months. Unless otherwise instructed by a health professional, children over 12 months of age should drink nothing other than water during the night.
  5.  Use only sugar-free medicines if possible. If children develop tooth decay, they must be diagnosed early so that appropriate treatment can be instigated promptly. Referral to a specialist dentist should also be readily available when appropriate. This will help to prevent the need for multiple tooth extractions under general anaesthetic.

Irrespective of the reason, it is shocking that tens of thousands of children need to be admitted to hospital when poor oral health is largely preventable. More than 30 per cent of children in England did not see an NHS dentist between 2012 and 2014. When a child develops an abscess  in their milk teeth it can damage the permanent tooth developing in the gum below; not great if you would like your child to have a confident smile as they grow up.

If you think your child would benefit from visiting a hygienist to learn how to look after their teeth, there is no need for a referral from your dentist to book.

We also have a periodontal expert who could help treat any gum disease your child may have, helping to protect their teeth into adulthood.