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Dentists call for national effort to ‘stop the rot’ on child tooth decay

23 Sep 2020

Rotting teeth remain the leading cause of hospital admission among five to nine year olds, new figures reveal.

Although there had been a slight fall in admissions on the previous year, there were still more than double the number of children (23,529) undergoing hospital treatment for tooth decay, than for the second most prevalent cause, acute tonsillitis (10,359).  The figures cover a period almost entirely before lockdown, from April 2019 to the end of March 2020.

Since April 2012, over 350,000 young people have been admitted to hospital with tooth decay, of which 57% were aged between five and nine.  Public Health England’s most recent Oral Health Survey of Five Year Old Childrenshowed that across England as a whole 23.4% of five year old children had visible decay. 

Top dentists today (Wednesday) called for ‘a renewed national effort’ to reduce tooth decay in children, including by:

  • Urgently identifying a ‘new home’ for oral health work, in the wake of the abolition of Public Health England
  • Extension of the successful ‘Soft Drinks Industry Levy’ to milkshakes and other sugary milky drinks
  • introducing a national supervised tooth brushing scheme in England, based on the successful ‘Designed to Smile’ programme in Wales and ‘Childsmile’ scheme in Scotland

The Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons of England says this renewed focus on children’s oral health is now critical, after a period when dentists could not carry out routine check-ups. 

Commenting, the Faculty Dean, Mr Matthew Garrett said:

“These latest figures show a welcome decrease of about 8% on 2018/19 in the number of five-nine year olds going into hospital for tooth decay, but the numbers are still far too high. These are avoidable admissions and more needs to be done to stop the rot in advance.

“It is likely that lockdown will have had a damaging effect on children’s oral health too, with reduced access to routine dental treatment, and disrupted routines which could undermine tooth brushing habits.

“At the moment oral health has been left out in the cold with Public Health England having been scrapped, without replacements for all its functions.

“We look forward to working with government to resolve this, and we are seeking a renewed commitment to sugar taxes and supervised brushing.  Only these measures will bring about a radical reduction in the number of children suffering from preventable tooth decay.”

Notes to editors

  1. For figures on Hospital admissions or tooth decay among the under 19s, contact
  2. The FDS was recently a co-signatory to a BDA letter to Matt Hancock highlighting the need to tackle long waiting times for dental treatment under general anaesthetic.
  • The Faculty of Dental Surgery at 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.
  • For more information, please contact the RCS press office: telephone: 020 7869 6047; email:; out-of-hours media enquiries – 020 7869 6056.

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