CHILDREN as young as two are waiting up to six months to have decaying teeth extracted amid a shortage of theatre space and reductions in hospital dentists.

Dental leaders say they have repeatedly raised the problem with their local health boards and the Scottish Government, but nothing has been done.

According to figures compiled by the British Dental Association in Scotland, some youngsters in the Glasgow and Forth Valley areas are waiting six months from referral to treatment, against a national target of 18 weeks. This compares to two to 12 weeks in other health boards areas, with NHS Fife treating urgent patients within 24 hours.

The problem typically affects children under five from the poorest backgrounds and recent immigrant populations.

Pat Kilpatrick, Scotland director of the BDA, said: "It's an inequalities issue. The majority of these children come from the most deprived socio-economic categories. There's also a problem with a lot of refugee and migrant children in places like Govanhill and north Glasgow. They often come into the country with really poor oral health because they might have never seen a dentist."

She added that delays meant children were turning up at A&E requiring emergency treatment after developing abscesses from rotten teeth which should have been extracted.

Nearly 8000 children in Scotland had teeth extracted under general anaesthetic last year. The procedure can only be carried out in hospitals, not dental practices, following the case of six-year-old Ryan Gallacher who was left severely brain damaged after he went into cardiac arrest while having nine teeth removed under general anaesthetic at Townhead Health Centre in Glasgow in 2002.

However, Ms Kilpatrick said the lengthy waiting lists had coincided with a "considerable reduction" in Scotland's hospital-based Public Dental Service (PDS) since a restructure in 2013, with the number of dental consultants in training falling by 26 per cent in the past year alone. The shake-up also saw patients transferred from hospital lists to community-based General Dental Practitioners which she said had eroded an oral healthcare "safety net" for vulnerable children, as - unlike public service dentists - GDPs did not have the time or staff to chase up patients who missed appointments.

Ms Kilpatrick added that BDA members also complained about bottlenecks caused by a lack of theatre capacity at the new children's hospital in Glasgow and had suggested referring Glasgow-based patients to Inverclyde Royal in Greenock instead, where waiting times are running at around 20 weeks.

She said: "The staff feel the waiting times could be reduced as there is unused theatre capacity at Inverclyde but the health board will not fund it. They feel theatre access is probably more of a problem than anything else."

It is understood that there are around 400 children currently on the waiting list for extractions in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

David McColl, vice-chair of the Scottish dental practice committee and a dentist in Govanhill, Glasgow, said he was referring patients as young as two for multiple extractions.

He said: "We are regularly getting young children, even pre-school children, needing multiple extractions. It's almost a daily occurrence - it's not something that is happening just once a week. We refer them on but they're waiting anything from three to six months."

Another Glasgow dentist, who asked not to be named, said the current referrals system was "not fit for purpose".

NHS Forth Valley said the "majority" of children were treated within 18 weeks, but a "small number" had waited longer due to factors such as cancellations due to illness or needing further treatment before the operation.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said the "vast majority" were treated on time.

A spokeswoman added: "There is additional theatre capacity available, but the dedicated theatre sessions currently available in the Royal Hospital for Children, Glasgow and Inverclyde Royal Hospital, Greenock is appropriate."

In 2016, 69 per cent of Primary 1 children in Scotland had "no obvious tooth decay", up from 54 per cent in 2006.

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “While there have been some significant improvements to oral health in recent years, particularly for children, there continues to be a number of complex challenges around addressing oral health inequalities.

“We are working to encourage regular attendance at dental appointments amongst children from more deprived communities and Childsmile dental health support workers assist our most vulnerable families to register and attend the dentist."