Oral Health Indicators Of Child Abuse Or Neglect

Abused Child

Every day children are brought to medical offices bearing the signs of abuse and neglect. While this is rarely the reason that these children are brought to the clinic, these professionals are always watchful. In addition to a general concern for the health of their patients, there are other reasons for this watchfulness. Throughout the US, the majority of states have laws requiring medical professionals to report signs of abuse. Dentists are included under this umbrella and are uniquely situated to catch certain signs. Many of the signs indicating the presence of child abuse can occur within or around the oral cavity, remaining obscured from view. You can help protect children from child abuse by learning what signs to watch for.

Oral Health Indicators Of Child Abuse Or Neglect

Mandatory reporters, those individuals who are part of professions who must report signs of neglect or abuse, see abuse cases every day. One important part of this law indicates that they must report suspicion of child abuse. They do not have to have proof that it is occurring; they merely have to have noticed the signs. Failure to report these cases can result in steep fines for the reporter, including potential jail time. As a result, these individuals are sure to remain vigilant and up to date on the most frequently seen signs. Some of the signs dental professionals are watching for include:

  • Signs Of Physical Abuse – When a child experiences physical abuse, there are often indications to the teeth and orofacial bones. The soft tissues of the face may also become injured, and cheek lacerations are particularly frequent. It’s not unusual for split or swollen lips to be present and damage to the tongue, oral floor, palates, and oral mucosa. Teeth may also be knocked out, fractured, chipped, or displaced due to the physical abuse they underwent.
  • Signs of Sexual Abuse – Most signs of sexual abuse are not visible in the areas a dental health professional observes. However, there is a high rate of cases of perioral (around the mouth) and oral gonorrhea in children experiencing sexual abuse. 
  • Neglect – Neglect tends to leave a lot of visible signs, including some that a dentist will have a good chance of noticing. Dirty clothes, being unwashed, and being undernourished are all common signs. However, oral hygiene also tends to suffer when a child is neglected.
  • Emotional Abuse – This kind of abuse doesn’t have any physical indicators to reveal it. However, there are behavioral issues that are often present. These children are often terrified of making simple mistakes and may display unusual degrees of responsibility for younger children. Emotional abuse victims may also rock, suck their thumbs, or throw tantrums inappropriate for their age. These signs increase notably when in a highly stressful environment.

Steps To Take If You Notice The Signs

The first thing to do if you notice signs of child abuse is to contact your local child protection services authority. They’ll be able to properly guide you in getting help for the child in question. Your dentist may be able to help answer questions about the signs they’re familiar with if you’re uncertain.