Health experts claim that a sugary diet and lack of brushing has led to tooth decay becoming the main reason for children needing hospital treatment in Scotland.
Many of the children, including more than 1,000 aged under five, had to be put under general anaesthetic to have badly decayed teeth extracted – an experience health professionals warn can be “terrifying” for the young patients.
Dental experts last night urged parents to cut down on sugary treats for their children and to take more responsibility for proper brushing.
NHS figures from eight health boards revealed that in NHS Lanarkshire, 448 under-fives were operated on in 2014, and in NHS Highland the figure was 104 in the same age group.
NHS Tayside said 553 children had to have operations to remove rotten teeth, with 170 of them aged under five.
Dr Nicola Innes, clinical senior lecturer in paediatric dentistry at the University of Dundee, said being put to sleep to have rotten teeth removed could be a terrifying first experience of the dentist for young children.
She said: “Parents react differently. Some parents act as though a child having a general anaesthetic in hospital for tooth decay is a normal thing but others are really affected and feel guilty, blaming themselves.
“It can be a traumatic experience for a young child to go to sleep and wake up with missing teeth and bleeding gums, and this can sometimes be their first experience of dentistry.
“Children who have their baby teeth extracted can end up with crowding when their adult teeth grow in, which means they may need extra dental attention when they are older.”
Innes said some toothpastes targeted at children were also part of the problem.
She said: “One thing to look for is that toothpaste contains at least 1,000 parts fluoride, and parents should consult their dentist to find the correct dose.”
She also said that child tooth decay is “a disease of inequality and has been linked to socioeconomic status”.
Innes added: “The numbers requiring general anaesthetic to have teeth removed are dropping though; the (Scottish Government’s) Childsmile programme is thought to be largely responsible for this, with toothbrushing in nurseries and schools, and fluoride varnish being applied to children’s teeth.
“However, tooth extraction is still the most common reason for children in Scotland and the rest of the UK to be admitted to hospital.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said that since it was launched in 2001, Childsmile “has saved more than £4.5 million to the cost of children’s dental treatment.”
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