MORE than 850 teeth were pulled out among children under five across the region last year, in what critics claimed was a damning indictment of British dentistry.

The total number of patients who had a tooth extracted under general anaesthetic topped 7,000, according to figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats.

The party leapt on the figures as evidence that – after ten years of Labour in power – patients are unable to get the dental treatment that might have saved their teeth.

Across England, the number of extractions has soared by 30 per cent in only four years – from 132,444 in 2003-4 to 175,403 in 2007-8.

It is difficult to make comparisons in every area over those four years, because the structure of some primary care trusts (PCTs) has changed in the interim.

However, there have been big increases in Darlington (34.9 per cent) and Middlesbrough (59.8 per cent) – although the number fell in Hartlepool (13.8 per cent).

Norman Lamb, the Lib Dem health spokesman, said: “The crisis in NHS dentistry is one of this Government’s most shameful legacies.

“This extraordinary number of people needing their teeth extracted under general anaesthetic could well be the result of the appalling access to NHS dentistry.”

Controversy has raged over new contracts for dentists ever since they were introduced in April 2006, to replace a complex system of separate fees for every treatment.

Barry Cockcroft, the chief dental officer for England, suggested part of the increase in hospital extractions might be attributable to moves by hospital bosses to clear the backlog of people waiting for treatment.