A Guide for the Dental Team on Violence

Dentists as Mandated Reporters

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.


Guide Cover Photo

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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?

MDS Committee on Abuse and Neglect

The Guide to Family Violence for the dental team is published by the  Massachusetts Dental Society's Standing Committee on Abuse and Neglect. The Committee was formed to develop information regarding the dental community's obligation as mandated reporters top report abuse and neglect and to develop educational and informational materials to address this growing problem.

Go to Committee on Abuse and Neglect


Abuse and Neglect Poster for Your Office