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Dentists look to spot signs of abuse

Some oral-health practitioners want to strengthen an awareness program.
Friday, January 9, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 1:15 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 11, 2008

Dentists, like all health care professionals in Missouri, are required by law to report evidence of abuse or neglect of their young patients.

Now, some dentists want to strengthen a program that teaches oral-health professionals how to diagnose and report potential abuse situations. The Prevent Abuse and Neglect through Dental Awareness program was started in 1992 by Lyn Mouden, a Weston, Mo., dentist.

“When I was practicing, I began noticing child abuse,” Mouden said. “I began talking to other dentists, and they weren’t recognizing the signs.”

But Al Martinez, vice president of government and dental affairs for Delta Dental of Missouri, a St. Louis insurance company, said the program has lost its momentum. For example, the program has only one instructor, a Cape Girardeau dentist.

“The program fell through the cracks,” Martinez said. “There are approximately 15 cases of child abuse reported yearly through dentists in the state of Missouri. I hope that’s all there is, but somehow I know better.”

Missouri dentists reported 13 child abuse cases in 2002, according to the state Division of Family Services. Physicians in Missouri reported a total of 950 alleged cases of child abuse. Nurses reported another 2,320 cases, while other health practitioners reported a total of 126.

Jake Lippert, director of the Missouri Dental Association, said oral-health professionals don’t see the same kind of evidence of possible abuse and neglect as other health care practitioners.

“We’re not as exposed to child abuse as doctors,” Lippert said. “Unless there is a tooth broken or something, they won’t bring the abused child to the dentist.”

Mouden said 75 percent of physical abuse of children occurs to the head, neck and mouth — areas of the body that dentists, hygienists and other oral-health professionals can easily examine.

Mouden and Martinez say they would like to see PANDA grow and hope more dental workers will get involved with the program.

“We care because we are a member of the community,” Martinez said. “We feel it should be part of our mission to make dentists aware of child abuse.”

The Missouri Dental Association will sponsor a PANDA seminar Jan. 17 at its annual meeting at the Holiday Inn Select in

Columbia.


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