Northern Ireland babies having surgery due to rotten teeth
Babies barely a year old are having operations to remove rotten teeth, it can be revealed today.
Thousands of children across Northern Ireland have endured the traumatic ordeal of dental surgery this year because their mouths are in such a bad state.
Figures released by four of the five health trusts here have revealed 4,227 children were admitted to hospital for extractions under general anaesthetic in the last year.
The Western Trust did not provide figures for 2016, but most up-to-date figures showed 766 youngsters had operations to have rotten teeth taken out in 2015. It has led to warnings that children are consuming too much sugar.
Dentist Dr James Kelly said many parents didn't realise the harm food and drink packed with sugar was doing.
According to statistics, 65 children under the age of three have had teeth removed under general anaesthetic in the Northern Health and Social Care Trust since 2007.
Almost 2,000 youngsters between three and four went through the operations, while more than 3,750 five to six-year-olds had to have surgery to remove decaying teeth.
In the Southern Trust, 1,286 children had teeth extracted under general anaesthetic in 2015/16, while 692 procedures were carried out on children in hospitals in the South Eastern Trust in 2016.
Three patients were just one-year-old at the time. Meanwhile, figures from the Belfast Trust showed 1,465 patients aged up to five had operations to remove rotten teeth between 2009 and 2016.
Dr Kelly, who owns Coalisland Dental, said many well-meaning parents were doing more harm than good when it came to dental hygiene. He said it was crucial that parents paid attention to the sugar content of food and drinks they gave to their children.
"I'd a mother in recently who said that her child only drinks flavoured water, and thought that was a good thing," he said.
"Of course that isn't the case because of the sugar content in such drinks, but there are parents out there who don't realise the harm these things can do.
"At the moment there are a lot of education programmes, particularly in deprived areas, but it is important that we get the message out there to all parents."
Dr Kelly, who has been a dentist for 18 years, said undergoing surgery was extremely upsetting for patients and their parents. "I think for a young child of maybe four or five, getting the same anaesthetic as you would have for a major operation, that can be extremely traumatic," he explained.
"The thing we need to remember is that all of this is preventable and parents do need to take some responsibility.
"Simple steps like establishing a good tooth brushing routine are very important."