Dental caries in children: a sign of maltreatment or abuse?

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Nurses are often the first to detect distress in young patients. David Heads and colleagues examine whether tooth decay can be an indicator of neglect

Healthcare professionals are required to complete regular training in safeguarding children and, in this training, dental caries and poor oral hygiene are often cited as potential indicators of neglect. Nurses may be the first healthcare professionals to detect poor oral health in a child, although unfortunately the relationship between neglect and dental caries in children is unclear. Any healthcare professional suspicious of child abuse or neglect has responsibility to follow the appropriate protocol and report their concerns. If dental neglect is suspected then the opinion of a dentist will be required as part of the investigation.

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