Vulnerable children are increasingly waiting for months in agony to have their teeth fixed following a “completely unacceptable” deterioration in youngsters’ dental care, Labour has said.
There has been a 52% rise in the number of children having to wait more than six months for hospital dental treatment, with 1,498 children forced to wait longer than this in 2017, the party found.
It also discovered a 15% increase over three years in the number of children on waiting lists for dental operations undertaken under general anaesthetic.
In 2017, under-18s waited on average an additional 15 days for dental operations compared with 2013.
The worst performance was seen by Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Foundation Trust – where children waited 253 days for treatment on average.
Tooth decay is the number one reason for child hospital admissions in England.
The latest data shows there were just under 43,000 extractions of multiple teeth in under-18s in England in 2016/17, at a cost of £36.2 million to the NHS.
Labour’s ambition is to help our children become the healthiest in the world
The British Dental Association (BDA) said the growing number of young children on waiting lists for tooth extractions was “symptomatic of Government failure to tackle a wholly preventable disease”.
The figures follow a Freedom of Information (FoI) request from Labour to NHS trusts for data relating to general anaesthesia (GA) paediatric dental waiting times for children under 18.
Thirty-three trusts responded confirming they undertook dental treatment for children under GA.
It found that last year children in England waited on average 85 days for treatment under general anaesthesia following a referral.
Labour’s shadow Health and Social Care Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “It is completely unacceptable that vulnerable children are increasingly waiting for months in agony to have their teeth fixed.
“We’ve also heard horrific stories of people forced to resort to DIY dentistry kits in utter desperation.
“In the fifth richest nation in the world this is a damning indictment of Tory neglect of our health service.
“It’s time we had an urgent review of the potential health issues around using these kits.
“Labour’s ambition is to help our children become the healthiest in the world.
“That means investment to improve the oral health of every child and taking radical action like banning the advertising of junk food on family TV.
“A key test of any Government settlement for the NHS is whether the Tories follow Labour’s lead and prioritise improving children’s health and wellbeing.”
The BDA has perviously described England as receiving a second-class dental service as, unlike Wales and Scotland, it has no dedicated national child oral health programme.
Its chairman Mick Armstrong said: “The growing number of young children on waiting lists for tooth extractions is symptomatic of Government failure to tackle a wholly preventable disease.
“The vast oral health inequalities we are seeing between rich and poor are not inevitable.
“The battle for good oral health is won or lost in early years, and ministers should not be waving a white flag when cost-effective policies are available that can make a lasting difference.”
Professor Michael Escudier, dean of the Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons, said: “These figures paint a concerning picture.
“The thought of children waiting in pain for weeks or months before they receive treatment for a serious dental problem is troubling for all of us, and highlights the need to ensure all children have timely access to dental services when they need them.
“Tooth decay is 90% preventable, so as well as taking action to relieve the pressure on the NHS one of the most important things we can do to bring these numbers down is stop children getting tooth decay in the first place.
“This is about getting simple things right, making sure that children brush their teeth twice a day, visit the dentist regularly and reduce their sugar consumption.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Tooth decay is an entirely preventable disease – that’s why we’re determined to make sure all children get the right access and support to achieve good oral hygiene, whatever their background or location.
“Last year a record 6.9 million children were seen by a dentist, almost 60% of the total population and an increase of 110,000 on the previous year.”