More than 160,000 children starting primary school in England have decayed teeth, according to a new report.
Figures from Public Health England show that 23.3 per cent of five-year-olds have dental decay.
PHE's National Dental Epidemiology Programme for England shows that, while there have been marked improvements in the proportion of youngsters who show signs of dental decay, there are still 164,000 children starting their school career with rotten teeth.
Around 17,000 of these youngsters have been forced to have decayed teeth removed.
Tooth extraction often requires a hospital stay and a child being put under general anaesthetic.
Figures from the 2017 report show that in one corner of England – Tower Hamlets in London – 7.2 per cent of five-year-olds have undergone tooth extraction.
Across the country, the average is 2.4 per cent.
But there are wide regional variations – in Yorkshire and the Humber 4.1 per cent of children have had a tooth extraction due to dental decay, while in the East of England this figure is 1.3 per cent.
There have been improvements in the proportion of youngsters suffering dental decay in the past decade – in 2008, 69.1 per cent of five-year-olds showed no obvious signs of dental decay. This rose to 76.7 per cent in 2017.
However, among the 23.3 per cent of children with some experience of obvious decay, the average number of teeth that were decayed, missing or filled was 3.4.
Dental health 'inequality'
The PHE report reveals "wide variation" between regions, with children from more deprived backgrounds more likely to experience decay.
"Analysis shows that, while dental decay levels are reducing, and there are signs that inequalities are beginning to reduce, the inequalities gap remains unacceptably high," the authors wrote.
Commenting on the figures, Izzi Seccombe, chairwoman of the Local Government Association's Community Wellbeing Board, said: "Tooth decay is largely preventable, yet is the most common oral disease affecting children and young people.
"The findings of this survey highlight the need for urgent investment in oral health education so that parents and children understand the impact of sugar on teeth and the importance of good oral hygiene.
"Untreated dental care remains one of the most prevalent diseases affecting children and young people's ability to speak, eat, play and socialise.
"This study underlines how regular check-ups at a dentist can help to prevent tooth decay and the need for hospital treatment."
NHS dental care for children is free. NHS Choices advises that youngsters should begin visiting the dentist when their first milk teeth appear. They are advised to go for regular check-ups.
British Dental Association chairman Mick Armstrong said: "It's a tragedy that a child's oral health is still determined by their postcode and their parents' incomes.
"We should not accept that a child raised in Pendle [in Lancashire] will enter primary school with 20 times the levels of decay as one born in the Surrey home of the health secretary.
"Sadly, while cavities are almost wholly preventable, official indifference means this inequality gap shows little sign of narrowing.
"The NHS will keep spending millions extracting baby teeth in overstretched hospitals until policymakers step up and grasp the nettle.
"When programmes and policies designed in Britain have become the envy of the world, it's perverse that children in England are not benefiting from them."
Dr Sandra White, dental lead for Public Health England, said: "It's encouraging to see dental decay declining across England. However, almost a quarter of five-year-olds are still suffering from this preventable condition.
"Children in our most deprived communities continue to be hit the hardest – we need more local authorities using targeted interventions to reduce these inequalities."