Pediatric Groups Identify Oral Signs of Child Abuse and Neglect

Dentistry Today


The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) have collaborated on an updated report that aims to help dentists and other physicians identify problems involving a child’s teeth, gums, and mouth that may be signs of physical or sexual abuse and neglect. 

According to the report, injuries and infections in and around the mouth appear often in children who are maltreated. For example, caregivers may react violently during the child’s developmentally normal fussiness at mealtime and bedtime. Symptoms that may be signs of abuse or neglect include:

  • Bruises on the lips, gums, tongue, or soft tissue inside the mouth from eating utensils or a bottle during forced feeding
  • Burns or blisters from scalding liquids or fractures to teeth, facial, or jaw bones or scars or blackened teeth from previous injuries
  • Skin irritation, bruising, or scarring at the corners of the mouth, which could be from gags applied to the mouth in forceful attempts to quiet a child 
  • Injuries to the back of the throat, sometimes intentionally inflicted to make a child cough up or vomit blood or create other symptoms that would require medical attention and care
  • Injuries and infections tied to forced oral sex, such as tears and other signs of trauma inside the mouth or sores or rashes caused by sexually transmitted disease
  • Bite marks inside the mouth from the child’s own teeth, which sometimes are caused by physical or sexual abuse.

In cases of dental neglect, the groups note, untreated cavities and gum disease interfere with a child’s ability to eat, communicate, grow, and develop properly. The report also describes the connection between bullying and dental health, as children with mouth or dental abnormalities are frequent targets of bullying and face increased risk of depression and suicide.

Additionally, the AAP and AAPD report, the approximately 100,000 children in the United States involved in sex trafficking or forced prostitution each year have oral and dental problems from abuse and malnutrition, which can lead to poorly formed teeth, cavities, infections, and tooth loss.

The report, “Oral and Dental Aspects of Child Abuse and Neglect,” was published by Pediatrics.

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