New figures show a sharp rise in the number of people aged 19 and under in the city receiving specialist treatment to stop the rot. A total of 115 children had at least one tooth removed in hospital in the 12 months to March 2022 – up from around 60 a year earlier

Tooth decay is often cited as the first sign of poor health care and is the most common cause of hospitalization in children aged six to 10 years.

Children living in the most deprived areas are about 3.5 times more likely to have their teeth damaged by decay than those living in the most affluent areas. However, Darlington health officials have warned that the town has some of the worst rates in the North East.

Director of Public Health Ken Ross told a recent council meeting: “We have too many children with tooth decay. Hartlepool is poorer but has better dental care than Darlington.

“Dental decay is the canary in the mine for future obesity.”

A total of 135 extractions were carried out in the area last year, meaning decay accounted for 85 per cent of all procedures.

But overall extractions remain below pre-pandemic levels and the British Dental Association said the data “understates the level of demand, given the huge backlog and only partial resumption of elective services”.

This is because practices are not accepting new patients due to a shortage of dentists and growing waiting lists. Some children have yet to see the dentist for the first time, while others are suffering after waiting years for simple procedures such as fillings, as experts warn it could take up to two years to clear the backlog.

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A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “Good oral health is incredibly important and the number of children visiting NHS dentists has increased by 44 per cent in the last year.

“Similarly, in hospitals, we have seen an increase in hospital tooth extractions for people aged 0-19 years as oral health services continue to recover from the pandemic.

“The number of dentists increased by more than 500 last year and the Government is investing more than £3 billion in NHS dentistry so people can access services when they need them.”

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