Majority of young toddlers not visiting dentist regularly
Four fifths of young toddlers did not visit an NHS dentist last year, figures show
New figures collated by the Faculty of Dental Surgery (FDS) at the Royal College of Surgeons show that 80% of one- to two-year-olds in England did not visit an NHS dentist in the year to March 31, 2017.
This is despite the fact that NHS dental care for children is free.
The figures also show that 60% of children aged one to four did not have a dental check-up in the same period, the RCS said.
Guidance states youngsters should have regular dental check ups, starting from when their first teeth appear - which usually occurs around six months of age.
But medics from the FDS said there is "widespread misunderstanding" among parents, and even health professionals, about when a baby should first visit the dentist.
Meanwhile, figures from 2015/16 show that there were 9,220 cases of tooth extractions performed in hospitals in England on children aged one to four.
The FDS said many of these cases are attributable to tooth decay - which is 90% preventable through good oral hygiene.
Professor Nigel Hunt, dean of the Faculty of Dental Surgery at The Royal College of Surgeons, said: "In a nation which offers free dental care for under 18s, there should be no excuse for these statistics.
"Yet we know from parents we speak to that there is widespread confusion, even in advice given to them by NHS staff, about when a child should first visit the dentist.
"Every child should have free and easy access to dental care from the point when their first teeth appear in the mouth.
"With 9,220 cases of tooth extraction performed in hospitals last year for children aged between one and four, we cannot continue in this state of confusion.
"Many oral health problems are easily preventable through twice-daily brushing sessions with fluoride toothpaste, avoiding sugary drinks and snacks, and regular dental check-ups.
"The earlier a child visits the dentist, the earlier any potential problems can be picked up, so it is easier to prevent children having to go through the trauma of having their teeth removed under a general anaesthetic.
"Dental check-ups in early years are as much about getting children comfortable in a dental environment as it is about checking teeth.
"Simply getting a child to open their mouth for a dentist to look at their teeth is useful practice for the future. First impressions are vital if we want children to have a long-term positive impression of dentistry.
"If a first dental visit results in a stressful, traumatic experience, this could have a serious life-long effect on a child's willingness to engage in the dental process.
"Mothers are also entitled to free dental check-ups during pregnancy and the 12 months after they give birth."