The number of tooth extractions in hospital for children aged four and under has risen by almost a quarter in the last decade, figures show.
Data obtained by the Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) shows a 24% rise in the number of extractions in this age group - from 7,444 in 2006/7 to 9,206 in 2015/16.
Overall, there were 84,086 procedures between 2006/07 and 2015/16. In 2015/16, there were 47 extractions in babies under the age of one.
The data is set against a 16% rise in the population of children aged four and under over the same period, the RCS said.
Professor Nigel Hunt, dean of the Faculty of Dental Surgery, said: “When you see the numbers tallied up like this it becomes abundantly clear that the sweet habits of our children are having a devastating effect on the state of their teeth.
“That children as young as one or two need to have teeth extracted is shocking. It’s almost certain that the majority of these extractions will be down to tooth decay caused by too much sugar in diets.
“Removal of teeth, especially in hospital under general anaesthetic, is not to be taken lightly.
“There tends to be an attitude of ‘oh, they are only baby teeth’ but in actual fact how teeth are looked after in childhood impacts oral health in adulthood. Baby teeth set the pattern for adult teeth, including tooth decay.”
The data also showed that tooth extractions to children aged nine and under have reached more than 34,000 per year for the last two years. There were 34,788 extractions in 2014/15 and 34,003 in 2015/16, higher than in any single year between 2005/06 and 2013/14.
Professor Hunt said: “What is really distressing about these figures is that 90% of tooth decay is preventable through reducing sugar consumption, regular brushing with fluoride toothpaste and routine dental visits.
“Despite NHS dental treatment being free for under-18s, 42% of children did not see a dentist in 2015/16. “We’d like to see a significant proportion of the money raised through the Government’s sugar levy spent on oral health education.
“Sugar has an almost immediate damaging impact on teeth and if we teach parents and children to cut down on sweet treats and look after their teeth properly, there will be a positive knock-on effect for childhood obesity rates too.”
Dr Jenny Godson, national lead for oral health improvement at Public Health England, said: “Tooth decay impacts on a child’s ability to sleep, eat, speak and socialise, with some needing teeth removed in hospital.
“Tooth decay is preventable and we can all take action - this includes limiting sugary food and drink, making sure children brush their teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, especially before bed, and visiting the dentist regularly.”