A child has a rotten tooth removed every ten minutes in England's hospitals, shocking figures reveal.
More than 60,000 children had teeth extracted in hospital last year – the equivalent to 141 operations per school day.
It was the biggest single cause of hospital admissions for five to nine-year-olds, who accounted for more than 42 % of cases.
The figures, released by Public Health England, come as the sugar tax finally takes effect today.
The tax is a levy on soft drinks manufacturers of 18p per litre for drinks containing 5g of sugar per 100ml and 24p on those with 8g per 100ml.
The Government and health campaigners hope the higher prices will put people off the most sugary drinks, with the money raised going on school sports.
Professor Michael Escudier, of the faculty of dental surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons, said: ‘These latest PHE figures are disappointing as tooth decay is 90 % preventable by eating less sugar, brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste and visiting the dentist regularly.
‘We would like to see some of the money raised by the soft drinks industry levy go towards improving oral health education.'
Tooth extraction is carried out in a hospital when the decay is so severe that general anaesthetic is needed. The figures reveal 60,000 school days are lost each year because children are admitted to hospital to have teeth removed.
More than 9,000 children up to four, and as young as one, were taken to hospital last year because of tooth decay.
The worst age group was five to nine, accounting for 25,459 hospital extractions, followed by ten to 14-year-olds (15,014) with 11 to 19-year-olds (11,128).
Claire Stevens, president of the British Society for Paediatric Dentistry, said: ‘In some cases decay is so serious that children need most or all of their teeth removed in one go – it's heartbreaking when this can be prevented through small changes.'
Too much sugar is one of the leading causes of both tooth decay and childhood obesity with a third of youngsters now overweight.
Helen Donovan, of the Royal College of Nursing, said: ‘The sugar tax is a welcome tool in the fight against Britain's growing obesity crisis, but it is only part of the solution. Effective diet and exercise advice is vital in encouraging healthy choices.' Today's sugar tax has already seen several soft drinks manufacturers slash the sugar content of drinks to avoid the levy.
Coca-Cola has altered many of its drinks using sweeteners as substitutes. Coca-Cola-owned Fanta has cut sugar by 30 per cent, from 6.9g to 4.6g per 100ml.
But the soft drinks giant has refused to alter its classic Coke recipe – 10.6g, the equivalent of seven teaspoons – over fears of a consumer backlash, instead hiking prices of the traditional 330ml can by 10p to 80p.