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Children almost twice as likely to go to hospital with preventable dental problems than for asthma

31 Oct 2017

New analysis by the Faculty of Dental Surgery (FDS) at The Royal College of Surgeons has found that there were almost twice as many cases of children requiring hospital treatment for tooth decay as for asthma last year. This is despite tooth decay being easily preventable in 90% of cases. Asthma is not a preventable disease.

The analysis of new data from NHS Digital found that between April 2016 and March 2017, there were 34,205 cases of children needing treatment in hospital as a result of tooth decay, compared to 19,584 cases for asthma[1].

There were 17,043 cases of children needing hospital treatment for arm fractures, 10,397 for epilepsy, and 3,805 for appendicitis. Tooth decay is the most common reason that children aged between five and nine need treatment in hospital.

45,224 children aged between 0 and 19 were needed hospital treatment because of tooth decay in 2016-17, with the youngest patient being less than a year old.

The data showed some progress among children aged one to four, with the number of children needing hospital treatment for tooth decay among this age group falling from 8,800 last year (April 2015 –March 2016) to 8,281 this year. However, for five to nine year olds, this increased slightly from 25,875 last year to 25,923 this year, and among 10 to 14 year olds admissions also rose from 7,249 to 7,303.

The FDS says that while they welcome initiatives such as ‘SMILE4LIFE’ and ‘Starting Well’, they warn that it is important that no group of people are left behind.

FDS is also supporting a new campaign calling for all children to receive a dental check by one, which is being led by the British Society of Paediatric Dentistry. Earlier this year the FDS published analysis showing that nearly 80% of children aged between one and two had not seen an NHS dentist in the previous 12 months[2].

Professor Michael Escudier, Dean of the Faculty of Dental Surgery at The Royal College of Surgeons, said:

“No one wants to see their child in hospital. Sometimes this can be unavoidable, but when it comes to admissions caused by tooth decay, most cases are a result of simple preventative steps not being taken. Tens of thousands of children every year are having to go through the distressing experience of having teeth removed under general anaesthetic. Reducing sugar consumption, regularly brushing teeth with fluoride toothpaste and routine dental visits will all help ensure this is avoided.

“The problem is compounded by the fact that many children are simply not going to the dentist, with parents often unaware that NHS dental treatment is free for all under 18s. Dental visits in the first years of life enable children, as well as their parents and carers, to learn about good oral health practice. These visits also familiarise children with the dental environment, getting them comfortable in a dentist chair. This instils a first positive impression of dentistry, rather than a potentially scary and unpleasant one if their first visit is because there is a problem or, even worse, if they need to have teeth removed under general anaesthetic.”

“It is encouraging that already there are several initiatives to help improve child oral health. However, there is still much to be done, particularly to ensure that we do not leave certain groups of patients behind.”



Admissions for 0-9s

Dental caries






Status asthmaticus


Arm Fractures






Status epilepticus




Acute appendicitis


Unspecified appendicitis


Other appendicitis




Notes to editors

The Royal College of Surgeons of England is a professional membership organisation and registered charity, which exists to advance surgical standards and improve patient care.

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