The Oral Signs of Child Abuse and Neglect

One of the most heartbreaking situations anyone has to face is encountering a child they suspect has been neglected or abused. As medical professionals, dentists are charged with reporting suspected cases of abuse or neglect when they encounter them. This is driven by their investment in the well-being of their patients. However, there are also legal ramifications if they fail to report these cases. Nearly every state in the United States has laws that result in fines or even jail time if these professionals fail to report suspected cases.  

Oral Signs of Neglect And Abuse In Children

Almost every state has a list of professions classified as ‘mandatory reporters.’ Medical professionals are listed prominently under this classification, though they aren’t alone. Social workers and mental health professionals are also commonly featured on these lists. Those on this list are charged with reporting various situations they observe. Among them are those involving abuse and neglect of adults and children alike. They’re also responsible for reporting in cases where a significant risk of self-harm or harm to others is suspected.

  • Physical Abuse – The nature of the dental profession allows them to identify signs of abuse that may otherwise remain hidden. Child abuse often involves the child being struck in the face. The soft tissues of the oral cavity can often reveal injury caused by these strikes when no outward sign is visible. In cases of child abuse, it’s common to find injuries to the palates, oral mucosa, tongue, and teeth. 
  • Sexual Abuse – There are few indicators of sexual abuse that appear in a way a dental health professional would identify them. However, the presence of gonorrhea in or around the oral cavity is one that is frequently seen in this type of abuse.
  • Neglect – Neglect is an insidious form of abuse. It is not violent and is rarely active. Instead, it results from a caretaker being absent mentally or physically. This can be the result of addiction, psychological conditions, or other situations that leave the child’s needs unmet. Indicators include unwashed clothes, poor nourishment, insufficient hygiene, and untreated medical conditions.
  • Emotional Abuse – This form of abuse hides incredibly well in many sufferers. There are no physical signs in the majority of cases. When they are present, they take the form of habits such as picking and self-harm. More commonly, they show behaviors that are odd for their age. They may throw tantrums, rock in pace, or suck their thumbs. They may also act far too mature for their age, caring for others close to their age far younger than they should. The more stressful the environment, the more prominent these signs are.

Mandatory reporters are not required to obtain proof of abuse or neglect. They merely must have reason to suspect that it’s taking place. The above indicators are just some reasons they may report the suspicion.

What You Should Do If You’re Concerned

Putting an end to child abuse and neglect will only happen with us all working together. If you are concerned that a child is at risk, reach out to a social worker. You can reach Texas Child Protective Services by calling 1-800-252-5400. They’ll let you know what action to take.

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