In honor of February being National Children's Dental Health Month, the Massachusetts Dental Society's Access, Prevention, and Interprofessional Relations Committee would like to encourage all licensed dental professionals to participate in an abuse and neglect awareness program developed by the Middlesex District Attorney and Attorney General's Offices.
By law, dentists are mandated reporters and must report cases of suspected child abuse or neglect. As a mandated reporter, you are part of the safety net entrusted with protecting the children in our community and should file a report to make sure the child is safe, protected from harm, and gets any services he or she needs to ensure their future safety and well-being.
Due to the nature of dentistry, you will come in contact with children who may be in trouble, and you may be the first to be told about or see signs of abuse and neglect. Learning to recognize the signs, and then document and report them to the appropriate authorities is vital to preventing serious injuries or even fatalities.
Child abuse crosses all ethnic, cultural, and socio-economic borders. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Child Maltreatment Report, there were 31,089 children that were abused or neglected in Massachusetts in 2015.
However, it is important to remember that children are not the only victims of abuse and neglect. Women, the elderly, and patients with disabilities also face higher risk of abuse or neglect, with the unfortunate reality that it often goes unnoticed. As mandated reporters, you must also report any suspicions or signs of abuse and neglect toward women, geriatric patients, and patients with disabilities. The MDS offers resources such as the Guide to Identifying Abuse and Neglect for the Dental Team to help explain your role as a mandated reporter, and guide you and your team on how to identify abuse and neglect toward these vulnerable groups.
While dental hygienists and dental assistants are not mandated reporters, they are still in a unique position to notice signs of abuse. The Access Committee encourages you to share this training with your entire dental team so they, too, can learn about the signs of abuse and neglect and how as dental professionals, they can help to protect their patients.