More than 10,000 children in Hartlepool have not seen an NHS dentist in the last year, according to newly released figures.
The British Dental Association (BDA) said the rate of check ups for children is “national disgrace”.
NHS data shows that 51% of children in Hartlepool have not had a dental check-up in the 12 months to September 2018, one of the highest rates in England.
It means 10,098 children in the area have not been for their check-up over the period, despite NHS guidelines saying they should be seen at least once a year.
The remaining 49% did see a dentist during the period.
NHS dental care for children is free, but a poll conducted by the BDA last year revealed that one in four parents are unaware that there is no charge for routine check-ups for children.
The BDA’s chairman of general dental practice, Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen, said that current outreach programmes were more likely to target people who already visit their dentist.
He said: “The fact nearly five million children are missing out on free dental care is nothing short of a national disgrace, but is the logical result of policies from successive governments.
“In Scotland and Wales dedicated national programmes are reaching out in nurseries and primary schools, yet in England the authorities have offered a few posters to pop up in dental practices.
“Tooth decay is a preventable disease and remains the leading cause of hospital admissions for children, but instead of public information campaigns Westminster has offered radio silence.”
Over the 12 months to June, 496 children received some kind of urgent dental treatment in Hartlepool.
According to dentists, these are mainly tooth extractions or fillings.
Among adults, 38,400 people in Hartlepool saw an NHS dentist in the 24 months prior to October 2018.
That is 53% of the population, compared with 51% across England.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We want every single child and adult to have access to NHS care, whatever their background or location – and last year a record 6.9 million children were seen by a dentist with numbers rising every year.”