Analysis of NHS figures by the Standard revealed that just 49.5 per cent of children in the capital had seen a dentist in the 12 months up to June 2023 – the lowest figure of any region in England.
The NHS recommends that under-18s see a dentist at least once a year because their teeth can decay faster, compared to two years for adults. Tooth decay is the leading cause of hospital admissions for children aged 6-10.
Less than three in ten children living in the City of London (29.5 per cent) had seen a dentist, the lowest figure of any London borough. This was followed by Westminster (31.6 per cent) and Hackney (34.1 per cent).
A total of 961,610 child patients were seen in London during the time period, a fall of 5.3 per cent compared with the figure reported in the year up to June 2019. The number of adult patients seen by a dentist in the capital has fallen by 13.4 per cent in four years.
The figures illustrate how dental services are struggling to recover from the pandemic, which saw many appointments and procedures cancelled or postponed due to lockdown restrictions. Practices were instructed to close and cease all dental care from March 25 to June 8, 2020 - leading to a backlog in appointments.
A YouGov poll conducted in March found that one in ten Britons were turning to “DIY dentistry” after struggling to obtain a dentist appointment. This included patients using a filling kit from a pharmacy and, in extreme cases, attempting to pull out their own teeth.
Separate figures showed that less than one in four adults (39.6 per cent) in the capital have seen a dentist in the past two years. In the City of London this was as low as 16 per cent, followed by Richmond (27.2 per cent), Kensington (29.6 per cent) and Islington (31 per cent).
Meanwhile, the number of NHS dentists practising in England also fell year-on-year to 24,151 in 2022/23 from 24,272 in the previous 12 months.
More dentists left the service in London last year than joined, the figures showed.
The Liberal Democrats branded the figures “scandalous” and called for an emergency rescue plan for dentistry.
The party’s health and social care spokesperson, Daisy Cooper MP, said: “Every parent knows how important it is to ensure that their children can see a dentist when they need to. The fact that Ministers are failing to deliver this is completely unacceptable.
“This has to act as a wake-up call for the government. A rescue package for dentistry is urgently needed. That means reforming NHS dentistry to boost the number of appointments, teeth cleaning programmes in schools and early years settings as well as the removal of VAT on children’s toothbrushes and toothpaste.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are making progress to boost NHS dental services with 23 per cent more courses of treatment, meaning 1.7 million more adults and 800,000 more children received NHS dental care.
“We fund more than £3 billion of NHS dentistry a year, have announced plans to increase dental training places by 40 per cent and last week we launched a consultation to better utilise the skills of dental hygienists and therapists.”