Surgeons are performing operations to remove rotten teeth from 170 children and teenagers every day.
There were nearly 43,000 operations to remove the teeth of under-18s in English hospitals last year, figures show – up by nearly a fifth in the past four years.
Tooth extraction is carried out in a hospital when the severity of decay means general anaesthetic is needed.
But the true extent of the problem will be much worse because extractions done at a dentist, which are more common because only a local anaesthetic is required, are not recorded.
Experts last night warned the figures are being driven by children’s huge sugar consumption.
The Local Government Association’s analysis of NHS spending data showed the operations cost the NHS £36.2million in 2016-17. They have risen 17 per cent since 2012-13, when 36,833 were carried out, with the total cost to the NHS since 2012 reaching £165million.
The British Dental Association condemned health ministers for failing to act. It said England is receiving a second-class service because, unlike Wales and Scotland, it has no dedicated national child oral health programme.
Chairman Mick Armstrong said: ‘These statistics are a badge of dishonour for health ministers, who have failed to confront a wholly preventable disease.
‘Tooth decay is the number one reason for child hospital admissions but communities across England have been left hamstrung without resources or leadership.’
Professor Russell Viner of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said: ‘Having a tooth extracted is very serious.There’s the operation itself to consider, the anaesthetic along with its associated risks as well as the anxiety operations cause children and their families.
‘As many of these operations are due to the food and drink children consume, they are completely preventable and pose an unnecessary financial burden on our overstretched NHS. At a time when we are faced with reports of chronic bed shortages and cancelled operations, these latest startling statistics should act as a wake-up call to policymakers and act as the catalyst for change.’ He added: ‘To stop the constant bombardment of unhealthy food on children and young people, government should ban the advertising of foods high in saturated fat, sugar and salt in all broadcast media before 9pm. It should also prevent new fast food shops opening within close proximity to schools and colleges.
‘By making these small changes to the environment we are bound to see a reduction in the number of children that are subjected to these needless operations and the trauma that is associated with them.’
Councillor Izzi Seccombe, chairman of the LGA’s community wellbeing board, said: ‘These figures, which have risen sharply, show that we have an oral health crisis and highlight the damage that excessive sugar intake is doing to young people’s teeth.
‘This concerning trend shows there is an urgent need to introduce measures to curb our sugar addiction which is causing children’s teeth to rot.’
An NHS England spokesman said: ‘NHS dental care for children is free and tooth decay is preventable but eating sugary food and drinks is driving this unfortunate and unnecessary epidemic of extractions.
‘NHS England is working with the dental profession, local authorities and health providers and has developed Starting Well – a campaign targeted at high-need communities to help children under five see their dentist earlier and improve their dental health.’