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A series of Freedom of Information requests by the Liberal Democrats have revealed that NHS Hospital Trusts across the country are treating thousands of children with tooth decay.
The data from 64 Trusts revealed that there were 30,966 hospital admissions attributed to tooth decay in 2023, with 52% of cases occurring in children aged 18 or below. There were the equivalent of 85 admissions for tooth decay every day with 44 of those occurring in children over the past year.
University Hospitals Birmingham (UHB) Trust had a shocking rate of children being admitted to hospital with tooth decay in 2023, with 441 admissions.
In the UK population as a whole, there were more than 218,005 admissions for tooth decay in the past five years. The equivalent of 100 a day.
It has been previously estimated that the NHS budget for dentistry has been underspent by £400 million in the last financial year.
The House of Commons Library provided data showing that 4.4 million children had not seen an NHS dentist in the past 12 months, as is recommended. That equates to nearly 40% of children. 22 million adults, 52% of the population, had not seen an NHS dentist in the past two years.
Noting the alarming rates of tooth decay in under 18s, the Liberal Democrats fear that a lack of access to NHS dentists, growing waiting lists for dental care, as well as staff shortages and oral health inequalities may create a generation of children with rotten teeth.
To ensure that no child is forced to go to hospital to treat their tooth pain, the Liberal Democrats would launch an emergency scheme to ensure children have access to their free check-ups on time. They will also encourage supervised tooth brushing training for children in early years settings and remove VAT on children’s toothbrushes and children’s toothpaste, as well as reform the NHS dental contract to boost the number of dental appointments available.
Liberal Democrat Leader, Ed Davey said:
“Children are being forced to put up with the agony of tooth decay as this Conservative government has neglected dental services across the country. It is now clear that children aren’t getting the attention they deserve and are being left to suffer pain that disrupts their sleep, eating and education.
“This Conservative government has made it almost impossible to see a GP, get a dental appointment, and has allowed A&E delays to become dangerously long. Everywhere you look, the Conservative party has brought our NHS to its knees.
“Ending this intolerable situation must be one of the government’s top priorities as the crisis across the NHS continues to deepen.”
Ade Adeyemo, Liberal Democrat Candidate for Solihull West and Shirley, said:
"The situation with dentists in Solihull is shocking and it is nigh on impossible now for local residents to register with local dentists for NHS treatment.
"Currently, one in five adults (21%) and over 4 in 10 children in Solihull do not have access to an NHS dentist. This is a shocking state of affairs which is leading to so many local people being admitted to hospital for rotting teeth.
"The recently-announced government plan to offer 'cash incentives' is too little too late. For far too long, this Conservative government has taken local people for granted and ignored repeated warnings about the NHS dental crisis. Dentists are leaving the NHS in droves and local residents are left with nowhere to go.
"Liberal Democrats believe that everyone should get the care they need from a local NHS dentist, when they need it. That’s why we would ensure everyone can get an appointment when they need one and get the crucial treatment they so desperately need.
"We will train, recruit and retain more NHS dentists. We will also reform NHS dentistry so that no one is forced to pay hundreds of pounds for private care."