The Oral Signs of Child Abuse and Neglect


Indicators of child abuse appear in medical and dental offices across the world every day. Child abuse is defined as any time a child is allowed to undergo physical, mental, or emotional harm. The indicators of this can range from physical to behavioral, and most medical practitioners are trained to keep an eye out for them. Dentists, in particular, get an opportunity to identify areas of abuse that other practitioners may miss. Many cases of child abuse involve injuries to the head, face, and neck. When they identify signs of potential child abuse, they’re required to call the authorities and report it. You can help by learning what oral health signs may indicate a child is being neglected or abused.

Oral Health Signs Of Child Abuse

Nearly every state in the US maintains a list of mandatory reporters who are charged by law to report instances of abuse of children and the elderly alike. Medical practitioners of every stripe, including dental, are on these lists. In these states, they are not required to provide proof of their suspicion but merely to report instances where they see signs of neglect. If they fail to report a sign of child abuse, they can be held liable and subject to jail times and steep fines. The most common signs these practitioners watch for include:

  • Physical Abuse – Periods of physical abuse frequently result in injuries to the facial bones and teeth. The soft tissues may also become injured, with cheek lacerations being particularly common. Swollen or split lips may occur, along with damage to the oral mucosa, the mouth floor, tongue, and hard and soft palates. Another common sign is teeth that are displaced, fractured or knocked out.
  • Sexual Abuse – There are a few common signs of sexual abuse that a dentist will encounter. One that they often see in these cases is oral and perioral gonorrhea. These occur in and around the mouth and are common in cases of sexual abuse of a child.
  • Neglect – Signs of neglect are arguably among the easiest ones to spot. Children that are neglected are often undernourished and dirty. They aren’t often bathed, and their clothes will frequently be unwashed and even unchanged. If they have medical conditions, they’ll often remain untreated, particularly in the area of poor oral hygiene.
  • Emotional Abuse – This type of abuse lacks any physical indicators, but there are behavioral signs that can reveal it. Emotionally abused children often take responsibility for younger children at an inappropriate age. They are often terrified of making mistakes and do not freely speak with others. Thumb-sucking, rocking, and rocking may be present, especially in periods of high stress.

What To Do If You Identify The Signs

If you’ve been caring for a child you’re concerned may demonstrate signs of abuse, you can speak to your dentist. While they can only report on things they’ve observed, they can help you understand what you’re seeing. You can also reach out to Child Protective Services or other medical practitioners. What’s important is taking steps to put an end to child abuse everywhere we can.

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Dr. Jeannie Molato, DMD – Top Dentist in Bakersfield, CA

The art and science of dentistry has become my career’s passion. I can utilize my artistic passion and skill to give my patients smiles they have always dreamed of. I am also able to relieve my patients of their pain and discomfort, restore function to better their quality of life and educate the patients how to take care and maintain their oral health.