Children waiting 253 days on average to remove rotting teeth in worst performing hospitals, figures show. Dentistry experts have warned of a “troubling” increase in children being made to wait in pain for six months or more for surgery to treat serious dental problems, up 50 per cent in the past two years.

Figures obtained by Labour show the pressures on NHS waiting lists are being made even worse by an avoidable crisis of tooth decay from sugar consumption and a failure to promote good oral hygiene. Children in poorer areas are much harder hit the British Dental Association (BDA) said, adding that the ballooning waiting lists are another example of the “government failure to tackle wholly preventable disease”.

The statistics show numbers of under-18s waiting for dental surgery which requires general anaesthetic rose 15 per cent in two years, with a total of 13,548 on the list in 2017 – 1,742 more than in 2015. But pressures across the NHS mean many more young people forced to wait months for treatment. There were 984 children who waited over six months in 2015, by 2017 that had risen to 1,498.

Patients at Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Foundation Trust, the hospital with the longest waits in the country, children waited 253 days for treatment after a referral from their dentist. “These figures paint a concerning picture,” said Professor Michael Escudier, dean of the Royal College of Surgeons’ dental faculty.

“The thought of children waiting in pain for weeks or months before they receive treatment for a serious dental problem is troubling for all of us, and highlights the need to ensure all children have timely access to dental services when they need them.”

Dental operations to remove decaying teeth are one of the most common surgical procedures and 90 per cent are preventable. “As well as taking action to relieve the pressure on the NHS, one of the most important things we can do to bring these numbers down is stop children getting tooth decay in the first place,” Prof Escudier added.

“It is completely unacceptable that vulnerable children are increasingly waiting for months in agony to have their teeth fixed,” said shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth. Labour has also had “horrific” reports of people who couldn’t afford dental treatment resorting to DIY tooth extraction kits. “In the fifth richest nation in the world this is a damning indictment of Tory neglect of our health service,” he added.

While the government has launched a sugar tax on soft drinks, which came into force in April, it was criticised for failing to impose such a levy on sugary foods and for exempting equally sugary milkshake drinks.

Unlike Wales and Scotland England doesn’t have a dedicated programme to promote oral health children in schools and nursery, something Labour has pledged to introduce. Public Health England data shows a five-year old in Pendle, Lancashire has on average 2.3 teeth decayed, missing or filled. In health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt’s constituency of Waverley in leafy Surrey, the equivalent figure is 0.1.

“The growing number of young children on waiting lists for tooth extractions is symptomatic of government failure to tackle a wholly preventable disease,” BDA chair Mick Armstrong said. “The vast oral health inequalities we are seeing between rich and poor are not inevitable.”

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