The Role of a Dentist as a Mandated Reporter of Abuse & Neglect

The Role of a Dentist as a Mandated Reporter of Abuse/Neglect

Dentists are mandated reporters. However, it's important to remember that under Massachusetts law, mandated reporters are protected from liability in any civil or criminal action and from any discriminatory or retaliatory action by an employer.

With 75 percent of physical abuse cases resulting in injuries to the head, neck, and/or mouth, the dental community is in a fundamental position to be the first advocates for patients suffering from abuse and neglect.

Studies conclusively state that health care professionals who acknowledge that abuse has occurred have a positive impact on their patients. The dental team's role in combating abuse and neglect includes recognition and referral. By being observant and reporting suspected cases, you can help shield your patients, both young and old, from violence and neglect.

Child Abuse in the United States

In the United States, seven or more children die per day from abuse and neglect, which equates to over 2,500 per year. This number represents the 50 percent undercounting in the estimated figure of 1,560, which is an official estimate. In the country, every 36 seconds a child is abused or neglected. Only 40 percent of abused children in the country with substantiated cases receive services, according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services and MarketWatch.

There is a direct correlation between the economy and incidences of child abuse. For children, the downturned economy has literally meant lost lives. 

A recent report by researchers at Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh in the journal Pediatrics confirmed what physicians and child advocates in Massachusetts and around the country already knew—that infants and children in the United States are dying in larger numbers from injuries caused by abuse at the hands of frustrated, stressed-out parents and caregivers.


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Is Your Patient  a Victim of Abuse?

Prior to any dental treatment or exam, a member of the dental team can subtly perform an overall assessment of the patients to determine if the patient is a possible victim of child abuse, elder abuse, domestic violence, or abuse of the developmentally and physically challenged. Here are some guidelines to follow:

  • If possible, observe patients walking into your office and how they behave in the waiting area. 
  • Does the patient appear to be in pain as he or she walks into the operatory or sits in the dental chair? A victim who has fractured or broken bones or ribs may have hindered movement. 
  • Does the patient seem uncomfortable as he or she sits down? This may indicate sexual abuse.
  • Is there swelling or bruises around the face?
  • Do hands reveal any type of trauma such as burns from cigarettes, lighters, or “glove-like” burns from scalding water?
  • When the patient is in the chair, observe his or her head to detect if there’s any swelling of the scalp from trauma or fracture. Are there bald spots where hair was traumatically removed or pulled?
  • Are there oval-shaped abrasions or lacerations that indicate bite marks?
  • Does the patient appear to be overdressed for the current weather? For example, is he or she wearing long sleeves, long pants, and other heavy clothing during hot summer months? This may be an attempt to cover bruises or injuries to the arms and legs.
  • Is the patient dirty, disheveled, or appear malnourished? 
  • Was there an obvious delay in seeking treatment?

Information on Abuse and Neglect

The Guide to Family Violence for the dental team, includes information regarding the dental community's obligation as mandated reporters to report abuse and neglect and to develop educational and informational materials to address this growing problem.

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Abuse and Neglect Poster for Your Office


Mandated Reporting - Do You Know How to File a Concern?

Dentists are mandated reporters. Every time a you renew your dental license in Massachusetts, you must attest to knowing your responsibility as a mandated reporter. Failure to report a suspected case of abuse and/or neglect can have financial penalties. 


How to File A Suspicion

As a dentist, it is legally your responsibility to understand the reporting requirements when you suspect a case of abuse and/or neglect for a child, elderly person, or person with disability. You make an oral report with the corresponding office and file a written report within 48 hours after the oral report has been made.


Report a Suspicion of Child Abuse and/or Neglect 

Massachusetts law requires mandated reporters to immediately make an oral or written report to the Department of Children & Families (DCF) when, in your professional capacity, you have reasonable cause to believe that a child under the age of 18 is suffering from abuse and/or neglect. In addition to filing with the department, a mandated reporter may notify local law enforcement or the Office of Child Advocate of any suspected abuse and/or neglect. You should report: any physical or emotional injury resulting from abuse and/or neglect; any instance in which a child is determined to be physically dependent upon an addictive drug at birth; or death as a result of abuse and/or neglect. 

 When you suspect that a child is being abused/and or neglected, you should immediately telephone the DCF area office serving the child's residence and ask for the Screening Unit. DCF offices are staffed between 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. weekdays. To make a report at any other time, call the Child-At-Risk-Hotline at (800) 792-5200. 


Report a Suspicion of Elder Abuse and/or Neglect


 If you suspect an elder (60 and over) is being abused, neglected, or exploited, you are mandated to file an oral report. Call (800) 922-2275 to reach the Protected Services hotline. Follow the prompts to file a suspected abuse report with an intake specialist, who will then send you a written report to complete that should be returned within 48 hours, if possible. The report is always confidential. 


Report a Suspicion of Disabled Abuse and/or Neglect

 If you suspect a disabled person is being abused and/or neglected, you are mandated to file an oral report. Contact (800) 426-9009 to speak with an intake specialist, who will take your oral report and fax you a written report to complete. The written report should be completed and returned as soon as possible. 


 Reporting a suspicion of abuse and neglect is your legal responsibility and also the right thing to do. Failure to report a case can result in a fine of $1,000 or more.  


Abuse and Neglect
Oral Reporting Hotlines





 Child Abuse/Neglect 

 Department of Children Services 

 (800) 792-5200 

 Elder Abuse/Neglect 

 Department of Protected Services 

 (800) 922-2275 

 Disabled Abuse/Neglect 

 Disabled person Protection 

 (800) 426-9009 



Safety Tips for Children

To Prevent Abuse and Neglect, Massachusetts Dental Society has developed the "Knowing My Rules for Safety" table-top display for dental offices and has mailed a display to all member offices. Please spread the word with your patients on child safety. Additional replacement display pads are available.

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Dentists Are Mandated Reporters


Dentists are mandated reporters of abuse and neglect. It's important to remember that under Massachusetts law, mandated reporters are protected from liability in any civil or criminal action and from any discriminatory or retaliatory action by an employer.

Need additional information on how to report a case of abuse and neglect?  Browse the info below for hotline numbers, web links, and age guidelines. 

  • Massachusetts Department of Children & Families (DCF)
    Phone: (800) 792-5200
    Ages birth to 17
  • Disabled Persons Protection Commission (DPPC)
    Phone: (800) 426-9009
    Ages 18 to 59


Abuse and Neglect Quiz

The Standing Committee on Abuse and Neglect created a series of quizzes on various topics relating to dental practitioners' knowledge about abuse and neglect.

Take this self-evaluation to test your knowledge.

Coming soon - more quizzes in the series.




Concerns can be directed to Ellen Factor, Director of Dental Practice Services.