Dental health has plummeted in the Murrumbidgee over the past five years to the point where the region is now among the worst in NSW.
The Murrumbidgee is in the state's top two districts for preventable hospitalisations caused by dental conditions, the latest health department figures show.
In the Murrumbidgee region overall there were 768 potentially preventable hospitalisations in 2018-19 for dental conditions, a "worrying" rise of 42 per cent from the 2012-13 period.
Across the state, people aged between five and 14 years experienced more preventable hospitalisations for dental conditions than any other complaint, above even asthma and epilepsy.
Riverina dentist and Australian Dental Association NSW president Kathleen Matthews said young people usually presented to hospital in such cases for extensive dental treatment.
"Because they've got a high level of decay in their mouth and getting it done in the chair is too overwhelming, so getting it done while they're asleep is better," Dr Matthews said.
Murrumbidgee dentists are battling a sweet enemy in their fight for better dental health in young people.
"The sad thing for us as dentists is we know what causes dental decay, it's sugar," Dr Matthews said.
"We know that through a set of circumstances perhaps beyond the child's control they're somehow getting access to [excessive] sugar within their diets."
The Murrumbidgee fared better than only Western NSW in a ranking of local health districts for 2018-19.
"We know that dental disease is also part of how you access health services, how you access family services," Dr Matthews said.
"Sugar's not great. I think the thing is for parents there are sometimes hidden sugars in the trolley, so to speak."
She said there could be "a couple of factors" involved in the Murrumbidgee's low ranking.
"One is perhaps people with lower socio-economic status ... cheap food plays into that. The other is some non-fluoridated ares in the region," she said.
The preventable hospitalisation figures for 2019-20 are yet to be released, but Dr Matthews said she expected the numbers to drop due to COVID-19 and its implications for elective surgery.
"It's probably going to look less because we've had a partial shutdown with COVID-19," she said.
Dental businesses, she said, were reporting a return back to normal after a decline of "about 60 per cent" in procedures, including complex elective treatments.