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Dental caries is primary reason for hospital admissions in the UK

Recent data shows that over 25,000 children in the UK had carious teeth removed in hospitals between 2021 and 2022. (Image: hedgehog94/Shutterstock)

LONDON, UK: It is well established that dental caries is common in children. Now, new data from the UK on hospital tooth extractions among 0–19-year-olds revealed that dental caries was the main cause of hospital admissions in the country last year. The data suggests that the high number of child hospital admissions owing to caries could be attributed to huge backlogs and the only partial recovery of elective services.

Recent data from the government’s Office for Health Improvement and Disparities shows that youngsters aged 19 and under underwent 42,180 tooth extractions in National Health Service (NHS) hospitals in England in the financial year 2021–22. Of these, 26,741 had dental caries, representing 63% of tooth extractions for the age group. Children aged between 6 and 10 years were the most affected. Additionally, children living in the most deprived communities were found to be approximately three and a half times more likely to have teeth removed because of caries compared with those living in the most affluent areas.

Overall, there was an 83% increase in extractions for dental caries compared with 2020/21, which could be the result of only a partial recovery of hospital services after the COVID-19 pandemic. However, whereas the number of operations for tooth extraction from 2021 to 2022 was higher than the previous year, it was noted in the report that levels were still lower than pre-pandemic figures.

According to the data, the NHS is estimated to have spent £50.9 million (€58 million) on removing carious teeth from 2021 to 2022. “Tooth decay is still going unchallenged as the number one reason for hospital admissions among young children,” said Dr Eddie Crouch, chair of the British Dental Association (BDA) Principal Executive Committee.

It was recently reported that the majority of practices in England were unable to take on new adult or child NHS patients. The BDA says it is deeply concerned that the ongoing severely limited access to dental healthcare, together with other problems, will further widen existing oral health inequalities. “Decay and deprivation are going hand in hand, and this inequality is set to widen,” Dr Crouch noted.

It has been established that nearly 50 million NHS dental appointments have been lost in England since the lockdown, and some patients are now in urgent need of dental care. According to the BDA, the Health and Social Care Committee is set to begin receiving oral evidence on the crisis in NHS dentistry in England in March and has accused the UK government of failing to deliver needed reform and investment.

“None of this is inevitable. This government needs to be willing to take off the gloves when it comes to fighting a wholly preventable disease,” Dr Crouch concluded.

Urgent call for action

In light of the alarming data, the Oral Health Foundation believes that there is a great need for more education and funding as well as improved awareness about dental caries. Dr Nigel Carter, OBE, chief executive of the Oral Health Foundation, commented: “It is unfair and unjust for even one child to experience dental disease and pain, let alone thousands.”

Additionally, the organisation says that expanding water fluoridation schemes could effectively reduce dental caries in children. “The data on children’s general anaesthetic, hospital extractions in non-fluoridated areas versus fluoridated areas is staggering—in fluoridated areas, hospital admissions fall by as much as 68%,” Dr Carter noted.

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