How Dentists Identify Oral Signs Of Child Abuse

Tooth Model

Abuse and neglect of children remain an ongoing public health concern in countries around the world. It can be found in every walk of life and is not limited by ethnic, cultural, or socioeconomic concerns. Child abuse or neglect is defined as allowing a child to come to serious physical or emotional harm, exploitation, or sexual abuse through action or inaction. The majority of abuse cases result in injuries to the neck, face, or head of the victim. Oral injuries, both within the oral cavity and outside of it, are a prevalent element in a significant number of child abuse cases. Knowing how to identify these signs can help you act to bring abuse to an end.

Identifying Oral Signs Of Child Abuse

Like all medical professionals, dentists are required by law to report any indication of maltreatment. In the majority of states, this includes a requirement to report any sign of neglect or abuse in children. It is not required that the dentist prove that abuse is happening, only to report their suspicions of it. Failing to report can lead to penalties under law. Different forms of abuse can present with different indicators the dentist can watch out for.

  • Physical Abuse – Injuries to the jawbone, mouth, teeth, and lips. This can include electrical, chemical, or thermal burns as well as lacerations (cuts) and abrasions (scrapes). Injuries to the mouth floor, soft and hard palates, tongues, and oral mucosa have been consistently identified in cases of abuse. Damage to the teeth is also an essential identifier, especially if they’ve been fractured, displaced, or knocked out.
  • Sexual Abuse – Cases of gonorrhea in the oral and perioral areas are the most frequently identified STD in cases of sexual child abuse.
  • Emotional Abuse – Identifying signs of this abuse is trickier, as they tend not to have physical manifestations. However, there are behavioral signs that may come to a dentist’s attention. These include fear of doing something wrong, being withdrawn, and fearfulness. Age inappropriate behaviors, including thumb-sucking, rocking, throwing tantrums, or taking care of children at a young age.
  • Neglect – Neglect is most commonly spotted due to the state of a child’s body or clothes. This can include poor oral hygiene, medical conditions that remain untreated, and being hungry.

These signs all point to a child that may be in danger from neglect or abuse. While these are signs commonly used by dentists to identify potential cases, they can help you as well. Child abuse or neglect can be prevented by remaining observant and reporting any concerns.

Ask Your Dentist If You Have Concerns

If you’ve noticed worrying signs in a child, you know, speaking to medical professionals is a good step. Dental education and training include extensive coverage of topics like these. Due to the requirement placed on medical practitioners in every state, they have to know the signs. If you fear for the child’s safety, be certain to call the police or child welfare offices in your area. They’ll take action to see that the child is being properly cared for.


Alireza Movassaghi, D.D.S and Other Dentist Torrance Dental Associates is proud to be the home of Dr. Alireza Movassaghi, a USC School of Dentistry Graduate with 30 years of experience. His mission is to expand access to dental care throughout the Los Angeles area. When not engaged in providing expert dental care for his patients, he's taking in the latest soccer game and enjoying fine cars.
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