If a child ends up in hospital, it was once most likely to be due to a bump or scrape they had while playing.
But children under 10 are now twice as likely to be hospitalised with tooth decay than with a broken arm.
The problem is blamed on a lack of awareness by parents about how to care for children’s teeth and their failure to take up free NHS dental treatment for under-18s.
The number of under-10s admitted to hospital for tooth decay in 2016/7 topped 34,000, meaning youngsters are twice as likely to be hospitalised for that than a broken arm (picture posed by models)
Consumption of sugary drinks and foods could also be to blame, as 90 per cent of tooth decay cases are avoidable.
In 2016/17, there were 34,205 cases of under-10s needing hospital treatment for tooth decay, according to figures compiled by the Royal College of Surgeon’s Faculty of Dental Surgery and the Press Association.
In contrast, there were only 17,043 cases of arm fracture, NHS Digital data showed.
Other common problems leading children to need hospital treatment included asthma, with 19,584 cases; epilepsy, with 10,397 cases; and 3,805 cases of appendicitis.
Children with tooth decay can require treatment in hospital if they need general anaesthetic to have teeth removed or if the decay has caused other issues which require more complex surgery.
Professor Michael Escudier, of the RCS Faculty of Dentistry, 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.’ Overall for all children and teenagers aged 19 and under, there were 45,224 cases of hospitalisation for tooth decay.
It is now the most common reason that children between the age of five and nine need treatment in hospital. There were 25,923 cases in this age group last year, up from 25,875 in 2015/16.
There were only 17,043 cases of arm fracture, NHS Digital data showed. The figures also revealed there were 19,584 asthma cases that required treatment (picture posed by models)
Hospital admissions also rose among 10 to 14-year-olds, from 7,249 to 7,303.
There was a fall in the number of young children aged one to four treated, dropping from 8,800 in 2015/16 to 8,281 in 2016/17. But the youngest patient treated was less than a year old.
Analysis by the faculty earlier this year found nearly four in five toddlers aged one or two had not seen a dentist in the previous 12 months.
Parents are advised to take their children to the dentist when their first milk teeth appear and dental appointments remain free on the NHS until they are 18 years old.
Prof Escudier added: ‘Tens of thousands of children every year are having to go through the distressing experience of having teeth removed under general anaesthetic.
Labour’s Steve McCabe, who is leading the debate, said the figures were ‘pretty frightening’
‘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.’ He said children could be put off seeing a dentist for life if their first experience involved having to have teeth removed under anaesthetic, so regular check-ups were important.
MPs will discuss child oral health during a Westminster Hall debate tomorrow.
Labour’s Steve McCabe, who is leading the debate, said the figures were ‘pretty frightening’.
He added: ‘This is an almost entirely preventable condition… Apart from the fact that this is costing the NHS rather a lot of money, it is clearly not very healthy for our children.
‘It would appear that there are a mixture of factors involved. It’s partly sugar in the diet, but it’s also the lack of visits to the dentist and this is possibly parental ignorance about the need and also some doubts about what dentists will provide [for free].’ The British Dental Association’s chair of general dental practice, Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen, said: ‘These shocking statistics are rooted in an abject failure by Government to tackle a preventable disease.’