It was always known that many people would suffer from a lack of access to dentistry while surgeries were closed in the pandemic, but a dental industry leader has warned the consequences will be particularly long-lasting for youngsters.

New data obtained from The NHS Business Services Authority has revealed children’s dentistry has been a major casualty of the health crisis as appointments have been postponed. Across England, 4.7 million children were given courses of treatment in 2020, down from 11.6 million in 2019, a drop of 59 per cent.

Children in Buckinghamshire will at least have fared better than in some parts of the country, with the North West Evening Mail revealing that the worst-performing places in England for Children’s dentistry was Barrow.

Last year under-18s in the Cumbrian town had just 2,905 courses of treatment, a 71 per cent drop on the 9,937 courses in 2019. Routine treatments were down by 74 per cent and urgent treatments fell by 23 per cent.

Responding to the figures, chairman of the British Dental Association (BDA) Eddie Crouch said: “It may take years to undo the damage this pandemic has had on the oral health of our children.

He added: “The kids facing the biggest challenges will be from our most deprived communities, and we now need all hands to the pumps to help them.”

Mr Crouch concluded that “inequalities” in dental care will expand further, noting that even before the pandemic tooth decay was the most common reason for children to be admitted to hospital.

Buckinghamshire parents hoping to prevent their kids suffering longer-term problems as a result of poor oral health now may want to book an appointment to see a children’s dentist in High Wycombe at the earliest possible opportunity.

While the county does not suffer the kind of social and economic problems faced by a post-industrial town like Barrow, tooth decay is still a serious problem for any child, particularly once their milk teeth have all gone and they are left with the set they should rely on for the rest of their lives.  

Mr Crouch’s latest comments follow on from the recent controversy over the requirement that NHS dentists should carry out 45 per cent of their normal quota of appointments in the period from January 1st this year to March 31st.

This move led the BDA leader to accuse ministers of choosing to “focus on volume not need” by encouraging dentists to use routine appointments to fill their quota at the expense of surgery for more serious cases.

Even before the pandemic, the level of tooth decay among children was causing significant concern. For example, the Public Health England epidemiological survey figures for 2015 showed 25 per cent of five-year-olds had tooth decay, with an average of three or four teeth being affected.

To make matters worse, most of the decay went untreated and nearly 8,000 children aged under five had to have teeth taken out in hospital.

That survey also showed places like Barrow to be affected worse than Wycombe, but while the level of decay was highest in the north-west at 33 per cent, it was still as much as 20 per cent in the south east.