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Oral Health America encourages dentists to be aware of signs of child abuse

Publication
Article
Dental Products ReportDental Products Report-2011-03-01
Issue 3

Child abuse is a painful topic for most of us to think about-even for a few minutes-but for children who live in abusive households, that pain and fear is never-ending.  April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and Oral Health America would like to call attention to the important role that dental professionals play in fighting child abuse.  Nearly 65 percent of all child abuse injuries involve injury to the head, neck or mouth, often putting dental personnel first in line to note abuse of their patients.  

Child abuse is a painful topic for most of us to think about-even for a few minutes-but for children who live in abusive households, that pain and fear is never-ending.  April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and Oral Health America would like to call attention to the important role that dental professionals play in fighting child abuse.  Nearly 65 percent of all child abuse injuries involve injury to the head, neck or mouth, often putting dental personnel first in line to note abuse of their patients.  

For the past 36 years, Lynn Mouden, DDS, MPH, Director of the Office of Oral Health, Arkansas Department of Health, has made child abuse prevention in the dental office his personal mission.  He is the founder of the international P.A.N.D.A. (Prevent Abuse and Neglect Through Dental Awareness) program, which has empowered dental care professional throughout the world to look out for signs of abuse and take action when they see it.  

During Dr. Mouden’s first year in private practice, he saw patients in his office whom he suspected were victims of physical abuse.  Thinking back to dental school, he remembered hearing that dentists are required to report suspected cases to the authorities. “So I did just that,” said Dr. Mouden.  “Then I took my experiences to the district dental society meeting and my colleagues were surprised.  They claimed they had never seen a case of abuse or neglect in their practice!”

Naturally, this led Dr. Mouden to believe that there was something horribly wrong within his own community.  After much research, however, he found that unfortunately, his town wasn’t any different than many other places.  “The other dentists just hadn’t even recognized the cases in their practices,” said Dr. Mouden.  Since then, Dr. Mouden has created significant awareness within dentistry-and other fields-on how to identify cases of suspected abuse and how to differentiate between abuse and accidental injuries that sometimes mimic abuse.

What are some signs that a dental professionals can look for in their dental office?  “For one, bilateral injuries to the face are automatic indicators of abuse,” said Dr. Mouden. “For example, it is extremely difficult for a person to fall down and hit both sides of their face.”  Similarly, patterned injuries that indicate trauma from a hand or implement may also trigger further inquiry. “Dentists in every state and dental hygienists in most states are required by law to report suspected cases of child abuse and neglect, and elder abuse and neglect, to the proper authorities.  P.A.N.D.A. programs in each state work make sure that providers in all areas know the correct reporting procedures and contact numbers for protective services agencies,” Dr. Mouden said.

It is important to note that dental professionals are not required to prove abuse or neglect, just to report suspected cases.  It is left up to the protective services agencies to determine whether a case is founded or not.  Above all, care providers should remember that nothing could be worse than suspecting abuse or neglect, not wanting to report or failing to report it, and having that patient become a fatality of further maltreatment. 

“Working together” said Dr. Mouden, “we all truly can help prevent family violence.”

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