Neglect is often misunderstood and misdiagnosed. Cavities, periodontal disease, and other oral conditions are commonly associated with inadequate attention to nutrition and dental hygiene and can be signs of neglect. These conditions are not benign; they can lead to pain, infection, loss of function and other health conditions, which can negatively affect normal growth and development of a child.7
Dentists must distinguish, however, between caregivers who cannot provide adequate care for their children and caregivers who will not. Dental neglect is defined by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry as the “willful failure of parent or guardian, despite adequate access to care, to seek and follow through with treatment necessary to ensure a level of oral health essential for adequate function and freedom from pain and infections.”19 Before making a report of maltreatment to child protection, a dentist should determine whether the caregiver understands the explanation and implications of the dental issue and, despite having the resources to address the condition, fails to do so. When the failure to provide adequate dental care is based on financial or transportation barriers, however, a different type of intervention should be considered.
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