Toddlers are increasingly having their milk teeth extracted before they fall out naturally because their diet has become so sugary, new research reveals.
NHS figures obtained by the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) show there were 9,206 tooth extractions performed on children aged four and under in 2015-16, an increase of 24 per cent since 2006-07.
Experts have warned that a “relentless” diet of high-sugar food and drink is now beginning from the cradle, with parents commonly filling their children’s bottles with products like Ribena before they can even walk.
The sweet habits of our children is having a devastating effect on the state of their teeth
Professor Nigel Hunt, Faculty of Dental Surgery
The research by the Faculty of Dental Surgery (FDS), part of the RCS, is the first time long-term data for this age group had been published.
The faculty said nine out of ten cases of tooth decay could have been prevented, but that poor knowledge of oral health among midwives, nurses and even many GPs, meant parents were often unaware of the risks.
“When you see the numbers tallied up like this it becomes abundantly clear that the sweet habits of our children is having a devastating effect on the state of their teeth,” said Professor Nigel Hunt, Dean of the FDS, who last night called for all children to make their first visit to the dentist before their first birthday.
Of the 84,086 tooth extractions on four-year-olds and under between 2006-07 and 2015-16, 47 were performed on babies under the age of one.
The data is set against a 16% rise in the population of children aged four and under over the same period.
The new analysis also shows that tooth extractions on children aged nine and under reached more than 34,000 in each of the last two years.
The Government has pledged to tackle childhood sugar consumption by means of the Soft Drinks Levy, scheduled to come into force in 2018, whereby manufacturers will be taxed for the amount of sugar they use in their products.
However, Professor Hunt questioned whether the measure went far enough to successfully limit children’s exposure.
“Children can eat their daily amount of sugar at mealtimes with no problem, but constantly snacking between meals and bathing their teeth in fizzy drinks gives them no chance,” he said.
“Removal of teeth, especially in hospital under general anaesthetic, it not to be taken lightly.”
Professor Hunt added that people whose first contact with dentistry was when having a tooth removed were less likely to visit the dentist throughout their life.
He said extracting milk teeth before they naturally fall out increases the chances of crowding of permanent teeth and the need for braces.
As well as allowing their children to consume food and drink which are obviously sugary, many parents feed their children fruit juices without realising that these also high sugar content, he said.
The FDS recommends diluting "pure" fruit juice with water to limit the sugar content.
The organisation's report highlighted previous statistics which revealed that, despite NHS dental treatment being free for under-18s, 42% of children did not see a dentist in 2015/16.
Professor Hunt said there is also a significant socio-economic correlation, with a lot of poor families not seeing oral health as a priority.
The FDS is calling for a “significant proportion” of any money raised by the Soft Drinks Levy to be spent on educating children about oral health.
Currently, the plan is to spend the cash on initiative to get children more fit and active.
Dr Jenny Godson, in charge of oral health improvement at Public Health England, said: ““Tooth decay impacts on a child’s ability to sleep, eat, speak and socialise, with some needing teeth removed in hospital.
“Tooth decay is preventable and we can all take action – this includes limiting sugary food and drink, making sure children brush their teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, especially before bed, and visiting the dentist regularly.”