What can Dental Professionals do to Reduce Child Maltreatment?

Despite growing public exposure and concern over child maltreatment and the existence of mandatory reporting laws, underreporting continues to be an issue for health care providers, including dentists.4,16 Dental professionals may be reluctant to report for many reasons, including lack of knowledge and training about their obligations, fear of being wrong, negative reactions by the caregivers, and concern about being drawn into an investigation and court proceeding. In response, some dental schools are providing more comprehensive training on identification of child maltreatment and mandatory reporting.16 On-line courses such as this one help achieve the same goal: Awareness. The fact that you are taking this course shows that you take your obligations seriously. Keep in mind that you may or may not be the first to report a concern about a particular child. Your report might be one of several reports about the same child and could provide an important piece to the puzzle. Do not underestimate your role as a dental professional in the reduction and/or reoccurrence of child maltreatment. What are some specific things that a dental professional can do?

  1. Follow legal mandates:
    • Dentists should follow their jurisdiction’s statutory mandate to report suspected child maltreatment to child protection and/or law enforcement.
    • Dentists should make sure every member of the dental office team is trained and aware of the signs and symptoms of child maltreatment and committed to recognizing and reporting suspected abuse and neglect.
  2. Attend to the needs of child patients, including educational, financial, and transportation.
    • Dentists can and should be a major force in the secondary and tertiary prevention of dental neglect through the effective education of parents and children who are at risk.
    • In situations where a determination of dental neglect of a child has already been made by social services, dentists can offer to educate caregivers on the importance of good oral hygiene and routine dental care individually or by presenting this information to groups of caregivers through agencies providing parenting education.
    • If financial or transportation obstacles exist, dentists should assist by providing information to parents about government-sponsored dental care facilities or dental clinics specifically established to provide care gratis or based on a sliding fee scale. Clinics that offer extended hours for low-income families who don’t have dental coverage and can’t take time off from work during regular business hours to bring children for dental care may be an additional option.
  3. Increase educational opportunities for dentists, dental students, and dental staff on the issues of identifying child maltreatment, documenting, reporting, and treatment.
    • Increase exposure of dental students to the issue of child maltreatment in their undergraduate dental curricula.
    • Mandate dentists to submit proof of completion for a continuing education course on the topics of recognizing signs and symptoms of child maltreatment, documentation and reporting obligations to their respective licensing boards.