OHA child abuse

March 28, 2011
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month.

Child abuse is a painful topic for most people to think about—even for a few minutes.

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But for children who live in abusive households, pain and fear is never-ending. April 2011 is Child Abuse Prevention Month and Oral Health America wants to call attention to the important role that dental professionals play in fighting child abuse. Nearly 65% of child abuse injuries involve injury to the head, neck or mouth, often putting dental personnel first in line to note abuse of patients.

For the past 36 years, Lynn Mouden, DDS, MPH, director of the Office of Oral Health, Arkansas Department of Health, has made child abuse prevention in the dental office his personal mission. He is the founder of the international P.A.N.D.A. (Prevent Abuse and Neglect Through Dental Awareness) program, which has empowered dental care professionals throughout the world to look for signs of abuse and take action when they see it.

During Dr. Mouden’s first year in private practice, he saw office patients who he suspected were victims of physical abuse. Thinking back to dental school, he remembered hearing that dentists are required to report suspected cases to authorities.

“So I did just that,” said Dr. Mouden. “Then I took my experiences to the district dental society meeting and my colleagues were surprised. They claimed they had never seen a case of abuse or neglect in their practice!”

Naturally, this led Dr. Mouden to believe that there was something horribly wrong within his community. After much research, he found tha,t unfortunately, his town wasn’t any different than many other places.

“The other dentists just hadn’t even recognized the cases in their practices," he said.

Since then, Dr. Mouden has created significant awareness within dentistry—and other fields—on how to identify cases of suspected abuse and how to differentiate between abuse and accidental injuries that sometimes mimic abuse.

What are some signs that a dental professionals can look for in their dental office?

“For one, bilateral injuries to the face are automatic indicators of abuse,” said Dr. Mouden. “For example, it is extremely difficult for a person to fall down and hit both sides of their face.”

Similarly, patterned injuries that indicate trauma from a hand or implement may also trigger further inquiry.

“Dentists in every state and dental hygienists in most states are required by law to report suspected cases of child abuse and neglect, and elder abuse and neglect, to the proper authorities," Dr. Moulden said. "P.A.N.D.A. programs in each state work make sure that providers in all areas know the correct reporting procedures and contact numbers for protective services agencies.”

It is important to note that dental professionals are not required to prove abuse or neglect, just to report suspected cases. It is left up to the protective services agencies to determine whether a case is founded or not.

Above all, care providers should remember that nothing could be worse than suspecting abuse or neglect, not wanting to report or failing to report it, and having that patient become a fatality of further maltreatment.

“Working together” said Dr. Mouden, “we all truly can help prevent family violence.”

Child abuse statistics
* A report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds.
* Almost five children die every day as a result of child abuse. More than three out of four are under the age of 4.
It is estimated that between 60-85% of child fatalities due to maltreatment are not recorded as such on death certificates.
* 90% of child sexual abuse victims know the perpetrator in some way; 68% are abused by family members.
* Child abuse occurs at every socioeconomic level, across ethnic and cultural lines, within all religions and at all levels of education.

For more information, contact Dr. Mouden at [email protected], call (501) 661-2595, or visit www.oralhealthamerica.org.

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