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Study summarised:

The “Neglected” Relationship Between Child Maltreatment and Oral Health? An International Scoping Review of Research

The summary:

This study is a scoping review, which shows the link between child maltreatment and oral health.

The review included 68 papers published between 1986 and 2018, in 23 countries, including Western Asia, the Indian Subcontinent, South America, Europe, Africa, North America and Australasia

Of the main findings is that there is a relationship between poor oral health and child maltreatment that is well evidenced.

The significant findings are:

  • Child protection issues have become a priority in dentistry research and practice in several countries
  • There is evidence of an associative relationship between child abuse and neglect and oral health
  • Education promotes dentists’ awareness and confidence in identifying and responding to child abuse and neglect-related issues

How can you relate this to practice?

  • This article provides support for an argument that oral neglect can result in very negative outcomes for children which then becomes a violation of children’s rights. Thus, if you did not know the serious consequences of oral neglect, you will now understand this after reading this review, and you would be able to back up an argument in this regard in your court report, by referencing this publication.
  • From what we learn here, it could be good practice to engage with local dentists in your community, to ensure collaborative responses to suspected cases of child neglect and abuse; empowering dentists to follow correct procedure when they encounter children who may show signs of oral abuse/neglect.
  • From this review, it is evident that education in communities about the importance of oral care is important.
  • It is good practice for you to do a 'superficial assessment' (i.e., not comprehensive as you are not a dentist) of a child's oral health when you investigate cases or monitor the well-being of a child. Just like you would assess the general physical health and appearance of a child.
  • Always recommend caregivers to take children to a dentist if oral health seems neglected (as a part of early intervention); document what you observe and monitor if caregivers follow through with caring for children in this regard.
  • You could also explore whether caregivers prioritise oral health of children. For instance, ask to see the tooth brush/tooth paste of children, explore how often children are taken to dentist and educate caregivers about the importance of oral health (prevention and early intervention).
  • Should oral health neglect be only one of many signs of maltreatment, and depending on the facts of the case, then statutory intervention might be needed.