Published: 00:01, 08 March 2018
More than 150,000 children in Kent did not see a dentist last year as fears continue to grow of a crisis in childhood tooth decay.
Figures from NHS Digital show just over half of the county's under-18s had an annual check-up, with some 156,755 children failing to visit the dentist at least once in 2017.
Health bosses say the importance of regular trips to the dentist is highlighted by the fact multiple rotten teeth extractions, when decay goes beyond anything a dentist can treat, is the most common reason for children going to hospital.
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There were 36,883 extractions in the 2012-13 financial year where at least two teeth had to be removed, but in 2016-17 this rose to 42,911, according to national NHS statistics.
The British Dental Association is demanding improved outreach projects involving more schools.
Some have already taken a proactive approach.
Video: Are children suffering by failing to visit the dentist?
Chairman Mick Armstrong said: "These stubbornly low attendance figures offer real cause for concern. Getting kids brushing and seeing a dentist shouldn't be optional extras.
"Sadly parents are being left without guidance, while politicians seem content keeping costs down and patients away."
A public campaign called Dental Check By One has been rolled out to increase the number of babies being brought to surgeries, as first teeth begin to come through at the age of six months.
But county professionals are concerned extra government funding has not been provided to support it.
Tim Hogan, chair of the Kent Local Dental Committee, said: "If a parent is bringing the child as a baby, you are encouraging the concept of coming to the dentist and nobody thinks that isn't a good idea.
Some teeth facts to chew on*
* Figures from the Oral Health Foundation
"But if you see patients who are six months old, they are not going to need treatment, and the consequence is you might not be able to serve someone who needs fillings because you've filled your quota.
"If I had some say, on policy, I would be teaching children how to brush their teeth properly, really teaching them to do it well because all mouth diseases are preventable.
"I'd love to see an education programme where that's introduced."
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