There may be no greater struggle a medical professional faces than noticing what may be the signs of child abuse. Except for a few states, most areas have laws that designate medical professionals as mandatory reporters. Those who receive this designation must report any incidents they see that may be abuse or neglect. This requirement includes vulnerable adults and children alike. Those who fail to do so may be fined or even given jail time due to not doing so. There is no need to provide proof of the suspicion in most locations. Instead, they must report if they even suspect that there is a concern. Dentists are among those who receive this designation in the majority of places where mandatory reporters are listed.
Signs of Neglect Or Abuse In Children
Along with social workers and mental health professionals, dentists are required to report any signs that may point towards abuse of a vulnerable individual. During their training in dentistry, they are required to take classes that ensure they can note these signs and know when to report them. Even without mandatory reporting, most of these individuals would share their concerns with authority figures. As mandatory reporters, they are both required to do so and are free from concerns of being sued by patients who discover they have done so. Below are some indicators a dentist may notice that point to child abuse or neglect.
- Physical Abuse – Dentists are uniquely positioned to note the presence of abuse signs that may go unnoticed by other practitioners. Trauma to the orofacial region is expected in abuse cases. However, this trauma may be internal, with external signs healing quickly. Such signs include teeth that have been knocked out, cracked, or fractured. There may also be lacerations in various healing states on the mucous membranes, tongue, or palate.
- Sexual Abuse – This is one form of abuse that doesn’t tend to leave physical signs on the orofacial region. One indicator stands out from the rest. Studies have shown that cases of oral and perioral gonorrhea are common in cases where sexual abuse of a child is taking place. This indicator takes the form of open sores around or inside the oral cavity.
- Neglect – Neglect can be a difficult one to identify. However, poor oral hygiene practices can strongly indicate neglect in children. Indicators can include a lack of brushing, advanced gum disease or tooth decay, and other signs. In addition to oral signs, unwashed clothes, malnourishment, and untreated medical conditions may point to neglect in children.
Another form of abuse that your dentist may notice is emotional abuse. There are no physical signs of this form of abuse. Instead, there will be behavioral indicators, such as taking age-inappropriate responsibilities for younger siblings. Other common signs include temper tantrums, thumb sucking, rocking, and detachment.
Speak To Your Dentist For Advice
If you’re concerned that you’ve observed neglect or abuse in children near you, you can speak to your dentist. While they cannot report for you if they have not observed the signs, they can provide some insight into what you’ve observed. Better still, reach out to child abuse hotlines and child protective services. These professionals can act on the information you’ve provided without revealing their source of information.