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Dentists can help mitigate, prevent child abuse, neglect

April 02, 2018

By Michelle Manchir

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month and offers an opportunity for dental professionals to reflect on their role in recognizing abuse or neglect.

Dentists in every state are mandated reporters of child abuse.

"We have a privileged view of the families we care for as front line providers of regular oral health care after a child reaches two years of age," said Dr. Paul Casamassimo, a pediatric dentist and a member of the ADA Council on Advocacy for Access and Prevention.

Frequently, young children who have been abused have head, neck and oral injuries, making dentists key in identification of abuse, Dr. Casamassimo said.

"Dental trauma and occult intraoral injuries like burns or frenum tears are often invisible to others who are concerned with a child's welfare and safety," he said. "We may be the only hope for some children."

The national estimate of children who received a child protective services investigation response or alternative response increased 9.5 percent from 2012 to 2016, from 3,172,000 children to 3,472,000, according to a U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Child Maltreatment report released in February.

The national estimate of child abuse victims from 2012 to 2016 has increased by 3 percent, though the number and rate of victims have fluctuated during the past five years, according to the report.

The ADA's Principles of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct includes a statement about a dentist's ethical duty to become familiar with the perioral signs of child abuse and to report all suspected cases to the proper authority.  The ADA supports educating dental professionals to recognize abuse and neglect across all age groups and report such incidences to the proper authorities as required by state law, according to House of Delegates Resolution 89H-2014.

Dr. Casamassimo said identifying child abuse and neglect is a "team effort," falling in part on the shoulders of all dental staff.

"A goal for every practice should be a staff trained to look for and act on suspicions according to office policies and community standards," he said. "We all need to be aware of and attentive to signs and suggestions of child abuse and neglect."

Dental professionals can learn more about their role and responsibilities on this matter through an on-demand, no cost online course from the Mid-Atlantic Prevent Abuse and Neglect through Dental Awareness Coalition.

Users can access it by clicking on "Sonicare" on the bottom right corner of midatlanticpanda.org and clicking on "Mid-Atlantic P.A.N.D.A. Session One and Two - Complete Course with Assessment Test" halfway down the page. Course participants will have to register with the website at no cost.