More Gateshead children had decaying teeth removed in hospital during the coronavirus pandemic than in almost any other area of England, new figures show.
The British Dental Association has urged the Government to address a growing backlog of dental care caused by Covid-19, with extractions across England plummeting by more than half.
Office for Health Improvement and Disparities figures show that around 135 children aged 19 or younger in Gateshead had at least one tooth removed in hospital due to decay in 2020-21.
It meant around 308 in every 100,000 children in Gateshead underwent a tooth extraction as a result of decaying teeth last year.
This was among the highest rates in the country, but still down from 500 per 100,000 in 2019-20, as the pandemic hampered non-Covid activity in hospitals across the country.
Across England, 14,645 youngsters had rotten teeth removed compared to 35,190 before the pandemic.
Nationally, 22,549 tooth extractions were completed in 2020-21 – a 58% decrease from 55,137 the year prior.
The BDA warned the variation in teeth extraction rates highlights differing oral hygiene standards across the country, especially between deprived and affluent areas, and said the backlog caused by the pandemic will affect worse-off areas more.
Dr Charlotte Waite, chair of the BDA’s England Community Dental Services Committee, said: "The failure to tackle the backlog will hit those in our most deprived communities the hardest."
"It is the nation's poorest children who will feel the results as they struggle to eat, sleep and study."
The Dental Wellness Trust branded the national drop in extractions "shocking" and urged the Government to take urgent action to address the backlog.
Dr Linda Greenwall, founder of the oral hygiene charity, said: "Following the pandemic lockdowns, dental practices being forced to close and children consuming food and drinks packed with excessive sugar, many are now suffering agonising pain, cannot sleep at night or concentrate at school and end up missing classes."
The BDA added that the dramatic reduction in teeth extractions is almost solely down to the pandemic and is not an indication of a change in demand or improving oral hygiene.
Dr Waite criticised the Government's inaction, stating that it is yet to offer clarity on the scale of the backlog or a plan of how to tackle it.
The Department for Health and Social Care said it has provided £50 million to fund up to 350,00 additional NHS dental appointments.
It said dentists prioritised vulnerable groups throughout the pandemic and provided free care to the neediest groups, including pregnant women, young people and those on low-income benefits.
A spokesperson said: "We are committed to levelling up dental health across the country."