The number of children in Hartlepool who have not seen an NHS dentist in the last year was more than 10,000, according to newly released figures.
The British Dental Association (BDA) has accused the Government of an unwillingness to engage with hard-to-reach families, saying it could save money through earlier intervention.
Data from the NHS shows that just 50% of children in Hartlepool saw an NHS dentist in the 12 months to June 2018, less than the 59% average across England.
It means 10,047 children in the area have not been for their check-up over the period, despite NHS guidelines saying they should be seen every 12 months. NHS dental care for children is free.
The BDA has called on authorities in England to follow the example of the devolved Scottish and Welsh governments, who have set up programmes reaching out to children in schools.
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: “Sadly, the Government has shown no interest in getting hard-to-reach families to attend, when prevention could save our NHS millions.
“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.
“When tooth decay remains the number one reason for child hospital admissions we need more than preaching to the converted.”
Figures show that 20% of five-year-olds in Hartlepool inspected in the 2016-17 academic year had experienced tooth decay. Among them, 2.7% of the pupils had required a tooth extraction, a procedure which generally requires hospital treatment for children.
Adults are advised to see their dentist at least every two years. The figures show that 54% had visited an NHS dentist in the 24 months to June this year.
Across England, 51% saw their dentist over the period, a figure reflected in a fall in the uptake of services. Nearly nine million free courses of dental treatment were provided in 2013-14, dropping to under seven million in 2017-18 – a fall of 23% in four years.
A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care 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.”