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Health experts welcome downward trend in childhood dental extractions under general anaesthetic

Published: 29 March 2024

Dental public health experts have welcomed findings showing a reduction in the number of reported child dental extractions under general anaesthetic over the last decade. 

A report on the paediatric dental referral patterns in Wales published by Public Health Wales, shows that in 2013/14 8,901 children underwent extractions under general anaesthetic. This fell to 3,362 in 2022/23 following several years of consistent decline. This represents a 62 per cent decrease in the number of children undergoing this invasive procedure over a nine-year period. 

Extractions under general anaesthetic are not without risk and should only be undertaken as a last resort. Poor oral health can lead to tooth decay which if left untreated may require an extraction. Recent studies have shown that the severity of tooth decay is improving at a population level in Wales, but still affects one third of all five-year-old children. 

The report found that more referrals are made for dental extractions under general anaesthetic in areas experiencing higher levels of deprivation. The national Designed to Smile programme aims to reduce these disparities by instilling good oral hygiene practices in children from a young age. NHS Community Dental Services work with early years services, nurseries and schools to help start good habits, with supervised toothbrushing and fluoride varnish visits to help protect teeth against decay.  

Paul Brocklehurst, Consultant in Dental Health at Public Health Wales, said: “It is encouraging to see a decrease in the number of children experiencing dental caries severe enough to require an extraction under general anaesthesia. However, it is still a concern that many children still require this type of procedure and that this is more common in communities that are less well-off”.  

“Good dental hygiene habits are extremely important to establish early on in a child’s life. Parents and guardians should be encouraged to provide their children with a low sugar diet and supervise their brushing with a fluoride toothpaste twice a day. The Designed to Smile programme has had a hugely positive impact on dental health at population level, and this work is key to further addressing disparities in experience for children from more deprived communities.”