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Number of children aged 5 to 9 admitted to hospital due to tooth decay rises again

26 Sep 2018

Over 26,000 children aged 5 to 9 were admitted to hospital due to tooth decay in 2017-2018.
More than double the number of 5-9 year olds were admitted to hospital for dental caries than tonsillitis in 2017-2018.
Number has risen for the second consecutive year for 5 to 9 age group. 
Number admitted is decreasing in other age groups.

The number of hospital admissions for tooth decay for children aged 5-9 has increased for the second consecutive year from 25,923 in 2016-2017 to 26,111 in 2017-2018, according to data published by NHS Digital last week.  The figure was 26,708 in 2014-2015, dropping to 25,875 in 2015-2016. Tooth decay remains the number one reason that children aged 5-9 are admitted to hospital. 

However, hospital admissions for tooth decay in other age groups have decreased.  For 1-4 year olds, the number dropped from 8,281 in 2016-2017 to 7,666 in 2017-2018. Similarly, among 10-14 year olds, admissions fell from 7,303 in 2016-2017 to 7,060 in 2017-2018. In total, 44,047 children aged between 0 and 19 were admitted to hospital because of tooth decay in 2016-2017, with the youngest being two children aged less than a year old. 

More than double the number of 5-9 year olds were admitted to hospital for tooth decay than acute tonsillitis in 2017-2018. 12,143 children were admitted to hospital for acute tonsillitis, 10,390 for a viral infection of unspecified site, 9,724 for asthma and 8,910 for abdominal and pelvic pain.   

Last month NHS Digital data showed almost one in three (31.5%) 5-9 year olds did not visit an NHS dentist in the 12 months leading up to 30 June 2018. 

Responding to the figures on admissions to hospital for tooth decay, Professor Michael Escudier, Dean of the Faculty of Dental Surgery, said:

“It is disappointing that we haven’t seen the same improvement in the number of children aged 5 to 9 being admitted to hospital for dental decay as we have for other age groups. These children will likely be having teeth removed in hospital under general anaesthetic – something that should never be taken lightly.

“When you consider that tooth decay is 90% preventable and NHS dental treatment is free for all under 18s, it is disgraceful that so many children in their early years of school are suffering time away from class to have teeth removed.  Parents and carers must ensure children visit the dentist regularly, eat less sugar and brush twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste.  

“Supervised tooth brushing sessions in nurseries and primary schools are an excellent way to instil good oral health habits at an early age, and there should be support for these programmes in the NHS Long Term Plan. Initiatives such as NHS England’s Starting Well programme are beginning to reach high need areas but there is more that can be done. The Faculty of Dental Surgery would like the initiative to be rolled out more widely, so more children can benefit. We’d also like to see some the money raised by the Soft Drinks Industry Levy used to improve oral health education.”

Notes to editors

1. Number of children admitted to hospital in 2017-2018 due to tooth decay broken down by age group:

2. Top 5 causes of admission to hospital for 5-9 year olds:

3. NHS Digital’s Hospital Admitted Patient Care Activity, 2017-18 is published here: 

4. Further data on children’s attendance at an NHS dentist is available here: 

5. The Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons of England is committed to enabling dentists and specialists to provide patients with the highest possible standards of practice and care.

6. For more information, please contact the RCS Press Office: telephone: 020 7869 6047/6052; email:; for out of hours media enquiries: 07966 486832.

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