More than 30 per cent of women in the USA suffer some type of domestic violence in their lifetime. But it’s not just women who suffer domestic abuse. A lower, but no less important, proportion of men, children and seniors, are also subjected to assault by their own partners, or family members. Domestic violence is insidious and its extent will probably never be known. So many people suffer in silence, making it difficult for police and social workers to identify the abuse and put a stop to it.
That’s why doctors and dentists, as well as other healthcare professionals, and educators, are being made aware of the signs to look for, so they can alert the authorities if they have any concerns.
In fact, in 2012, the American Dental-Association’s (ADA) “Principles of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct,” declared that dentists are ethically obliged to learn the best ways of recognising and reporting domestic violence.
Here are 5 ways you can help Domestic Violence Victims
1. When examining the head, neck or mouth of a patient check for unusual bruising, lacerations, lesions, scarring, or unexplained pain. Check for a broken nose, or teeth that have been broken but for which no explanation is given. If there are abrasions in the mouth, or bruising of the lips and either the soft or the hard palate, this may be an indication of penetration and potentially of sexual abuse.
2. Untreated or rampant decay are also indicators of abuse and/or neglect, especially among children and the elderly. Elderly parents who suffer neglect often present with burns inside their mouth from drinking liquid that is too hot. Or they may have ulcers, ill fitting, or broken dentures that have clearly been that way for some time. It is vital that they receive treatment quickly to prevent infections that may affect their heart.
If patients are presenting with severe problems that should have been dealt with earlier, it is the dentist, or oral hygienist’s duty of care to the patient to try and establish why it has taken so long to attend the dentist.
3. Children attending the dentist who show signs of malnutrition, lice, are dirty, and look uncared for should be reported to the CPS. They are not able to request help for themselves and may not even be aware that their level of care is not normal. Someone needs to step in on their behalf and advocate for them.
4. If a patient presents with black eyes but no signs of other damage to the face, mouth, or jaw, check for other marks, such as bite marks, burns, bruising on the arms and legs, or cuts to the skin. Let them know that whatever they tell you will be in confidence and that you will help them to seek help.
5. Is the patient withdrawn, fearful, won’t make eye contact, or appears to be in a world of their own. This withdrawal could be a safety mechanism to try as they try to distance themselves from the reality of their situation.
Patients should be treated with dignity, care and consideration and should be examined only with their consent.
If you don’t feel satisfied with any of the explanations you have heard, you are advised to either dial 911, or report to the CPS immediately, and let them take the matter further.
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