There were more than 45,000 hospital operations to remove teeth from teenagers and children last year – equating to 180 each working day, figures show.
The statistics have led council leaders to call for immediate action to tackle sugar consumption, with youngsters in the UK the biggest consumers of soft drinks in Europe – with two out of five (40%) 11 to 15-year-olds drinking sugary drinks at least once a day.
The Local Government Association, which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, said the figures – up by 18% in the past six years – are likely to reflect poor oral hygiene as well as the excessive consumption of sugary food and drinks.
Its analysis of NHS spending data found there were 45,077 extractions of multiple teeth in under-18s in England in 2017/18 at a cost of £38.9 million.
This is an 18% increase on the 38,208 in 2012/13, which cost £27.4 million.
The total cost to the NHS of these operations since 2012 is £205 million.
The severity of the tooth decay means the treatment has to be carried out in hospital under general anaesthetic, rather than by a dentist.
Councils, which have responsibility for public health, have long called for the Government to implement measures to reduce sugar intake, such as reducing the amount in soft drinks and introducing teaspoon labelling on food packaging.
The Government announced sugar reduction guidelines for nine food categories in March 2017, but the LGA is calling for councils to have a say in deciding where the revenue from the soft drinks levy – which has raised £154 million since its introduction – is spent.
It said the Government also needs to reverse £600 million in reductions to councils’ public health grants between 2015/16 and 2019/20, used to fund oral health programmes and initiatives to tackle childhood obesity.
Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the LGA’s community wellbeing board, said: “These figures, which have risen sharply, highlight the damage that excessive sugar intake is doing to young people’s teeth.
“The fact that, due to the severity of the decay, 180 operations a day to remove multiple teeth in children and teenagers have to be done in a hospital is concerning and also adds to current pressures on the NHS.
“This trend shows there is a vital need to introduce measures to curb our sugar addiction which is causing children’s teeth to rot.
“There must be a reinvestment in innovative oral health education so that parents and children understand the impact of sugar on teeth and the importance of a good oral hygiene regime.
“Untreated dental care remains one of the most prevalent diseases affecting children and young people’s ability to speak, eat, play and socialise.”
British Dental Association (BDA) chairman Mick Armstrong said: “The Government says prevention not cure is the mantra, but still treats dentistry as an optional extra.
“Tooth decay remains the number one reason for hospital admissions among young children, but ministers have not put a penny of new investment into early years prevention.
“In the NHS’s 70th year ministers need to offer more than unfunded gimmicks. We require a dedicated and properly resourced national effort to end the scandal of childhood decay.”
An NHS England spokesman said: “NHS dental care for children is free and tooth decay is preventable, but eating sugary food and drinks is driving this unfortunate and unnecessary epidemic of extractions.
“NHS England is working with the dental profession, local authorities and health providers and has developed Starting Well – a campaign targeted at high-need communities to help children under five see their dentist earlier and improve their dental health.”