The number of tooth extractions in hospital for children aged four and under has risen by almost a quarter in the last decade, new figures show.
Data from the Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons shows there were 9,206 extractions for this age group in 2015-16 – a 24% increase on figures from 2006-07.
Some 47 of these extractions were for babies under the age of one.
Professor Nigel Hunt, dean of the Faculty of Dental Surgery, described the figures as “shocking”.
He said: “It’s almost certain that the majority of these extractions will be down to tooth decay caused by too much sugar in diets.
“Removal of teeth, especially in hospital under general anaesthetic, is not to be taken lightly.
“There tends to be an attitude of ‘oh, they are only baby teeth’ but in actual fact how teeth are looked after in childhood impacts oral health in adulthood.
“Baby teeth set the pattern for adult teeth, including tooth decay.”
Dr Nicole Sturzenbaum, who runs a child-only clinic in West London, told Sky News dental decay in children is “not improving at all”.
She said: “It’s heartbreaking, the children suffer and the parents are devastated – nobody wants their children to go through treatment, extractions, fillings or crowns.
“We just had a child of 10 months old already having decay, and there are lots of under-fours with multiple caries and lesions in the mouth.”
Dr Sturzenbaum believes many people do not understand which foods are bad for dental decay.
She said: “Lots of parents think smoothies and juices are healthy, but unfortunately they’re full of sugar.
“You have all these sugary snacks like muesli bars, fruit bars and dried fruits. They’re all popular but they’re all sticky and full of sugar.”
Meanwhile, Professor Hunt says the answer is three-fold.
He said: “Firstly, we’ve got to reduce sugar consumption and make increasing awareness of the dangers sugar has on a child’s oral health.
“Secondly, we must improve access to dentists and lastly, make sure children are taken for their first dental check by the age of one.”