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Recognizing signs of child abuse

Dental professionals should know how to recognize signs of child abuse and neglect in their patients and report any suspicions to the proper state authority, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association.

“Mandatory reporting of oral injuries indicating possible child abuse,” was published in the October JADA and written by Drs. David R. Katner, director of the Tulane Juvenile Law Clinic at Tulane University, and Christopher E. Brown, a clinical associate professor in prosthodontics at the Louisiana Health Sciences Center. The dental researchers reviewed the criminal and civil statutes in every state to determine what role dental professionals are required to play in instances of abuse or neglect.

Dental team members may see young patients with trauma in or around their mouths that may not have been an accident. It’s important for the public to know that every state has a law on the books requiring anyone who works in a dental office to report instances of child abuse and neglect to the state.

There are also laws that protect the person who reported the incident from civil retribution.

“It is the clinician’s responsibility to help prevent ongoing injury to people who are incapable of self-protection,” the study states. “Clinicians should learn to recognize signs of abuse and neglect, which often involve injury to the mouth and dentition. Dental professionals are mandated to report such abuse to state child protection authorities.”

To read this study and learn more about reporting child abuse or neglect, visit

©2010 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

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