The West Midlands has seen a 300 per cent rise in children being admitted to hospital for multiple teeth extractions in what a senior dentist described as a “massive parenting failure”.
Some youngsters are undergoing hospital operations to remove all 20 baby teeth, according to Dr Nigel Carter, the chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, who practises in the region.
In an interview with the Post, Dr Carter said it “beggared belief” that a parent would not notice their child had a “mouthful of teeth rotten down to the gums”.
Figures revealed by the Health and Social Care Information Centre showed that in the West Midlands in 2010-11 there were 456 children under the age of 10 admitted to hospital with tooth decay.
In 2013-14 a “shocking” 1,444 were admitted.
Experts blame the trend on a culture of parents rewarding children with sweets while failing to clean their teeth properly as infants.
Dr Carter said: “The rise is absolutely incredible and is indicative of a massive failure in parenting.
“Partly it’s down to background and people from lower socio-economic groups have higher levels of tooth decay.
“It has to be about parenting and looking after children.”
Dr Carter added: “In many cases the first time the child has ever seen a dentist is when they’re taken there in great pain.
“Basically if it gets as far as needing to go to hospital for general anaesthetic then you’re talking about multiple extractions.
“It’s not unusual for a child to have 12 to 14 teeth taken out and in some cases we’ve heard of all 20 baby teeth being removed.”
In 2010-11 120 under-fours were admitted to hospital for surgery in the West Midlands. This had rocketed to 353 last year.
So low down the list of priorities is cleaning teeth, that some families have a “family toothbrush”.
Dr Carter said: “When we’ve done ‘old for new’ style toothbrush exchange schemes at the practice, we’ve had people bring in new toothbrushes, clearly because they’re either too embarrassed to bring their old one, or there isn’t one at all.
“There are also cases were there are families which have one toothbrush between them.”
One theory for the rise in childhood tooth decay in the last three years is rising immigration of people from Eastern Europe, who are moving over with their families and receiving treatment on the NHS.
Dr Carter, who once practised in Birmingham, said the fluoridation of the city’s water supply in 1964 had meant that in general Birmingham’s dental health was far better than elsewhere.
He said: “When I worked in Birmingham, on the border with Sandwell, we used to know which side of the street a patient had come from, by the state of their teeth. It really makes a huge difference.”
Three years ago the total number of people under the age of 19 needing to go to hospital for surgery was 996. Last year it was 2,074.
In 2010-11 there were 6,000 hospital admissions for tooth decay in the West Midlands of all ages. In 2013-14 that had risen to 7,883.
The move away from three square meals a day can also be blamed for the growing problem, said Dr Carter.
Dr Carter said: “Children are now having seven to 10 ‘grazing’ meals, many of which are full of sugar.
“Studies have shown that if you put a spread of food in front of children they would choose to eat a balanced diets.
“But we have the problem where sweets are given as a reward and so they are identified as such by the children.”
According to the British Dental Health Foundation parents are failing children in three ways: not cleaning their teeth when young or supervising when older, not feeding them a healthy diet, and not checking their mouths.
Dr Carter added: “It just beggars belief that a parent wouldn’t have noticed their child’s teeth have rotted down to the gums. It is child neglect, basically.”
In Birmingham officials said the fluoridation largely meant that teeth were better than surrounding areas, although there had been a minor rise.
Birmingham’s director of public health, Dr Adrian Phillips, said: “In addition to fluoridation, parents have a big role to play and a regular teeth-cleaning routine is essential for good dental health. It’s also important to cut down on how often children have sugary food and drinks.”
Officials pointed out that in 2012/13 there were 20 times more hospital admissions recorded for non-fluoridated Manchester 5 to 9 year olds than for those in fluoridated Birmingham. Fluoridation costs the city £180,000 per year.