​The British Dental Association has accused ministers of token gestures to tackle child tooth decay.

This comes as new data from NHS Digital shows 4.9 million children didn’t attend a dentist last year, including 6 in 10 1-4 year olds (57.7% or around 1 million of that age group).

The BDA has long advocated that England follows the lead set by devolved governments, including bringing supervised brushing to schools and nurseries.

Elements of these programmes have been borrowed by governments from Chile to Israel. The Childsmile (Scotland) and Designed to Smile (Wales) programmes contain a range of universal and targeted interventions, have been huge successes, and have shaved millions off NHS treatment costs.

The Conservatives pledged to act on child oral health inequalities in their 2017 manifesto. However the Government’sStarting Well programme has no new funding attached, and is operating in a handful of local authorities in England.

Tooth decay is the number one reason for hospital admission among young children.

Henrik Overgaard-Nielsen, Chair of General Dental Practice at the BDA, said: 'Any government that claims to value prevention should not be letting nearly 5 million children miss out on free check-ups.

'The UK has pioneered polices that are transforming children’s oral health. Sadly while countries from Chile to Israel are seeing the benefits, kids in England have been left with second class system, without a penny of new investment behind it.

'It’s not inevitable that a child born in Pendle will arrive in primary school with twenty times the levels of decay as one born in Surrey. It is a direct consequence of years of inaction at Westminster.'