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Dental Professionals – Possible Reporters of Domestic Violence

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Dentists – Possible Reporters of Domestic Violence

Dental Professionals – Possible Reporters of Domestic Violence

June 20, 2006
By: Jesse Ball for Dental1

The social phenomenon of domestic violence self-propagates in many ways, perpetrates itself even in supposedly modern countries, and manages to keep itself, if not secret, at least massively underreported and under-prosecuted.

Take Care
Tips for Recognizing and Helping Abuse Victims
The following are guidelines for physicians from the Vermont Department of Human Health. They may be helpful for lay-people too.

Clues of Possible Domestic Abuse
  • Injuries do not match the history patient/person gives and may be in different stages of healing.
  • Inappropriate behavior, flinching, intense startled reactions.
  • Reluctance to speak in partner’s presence.
  • Overly attentive partner reluctant to leave patient/person.
  • Any injury during pregnancy.

    If you do suspect abuse
  • Interview patient privately (or discuss the issue with the person privately).
  • Don’t ask questions or discuss abuse or violence in partner’s presence.
  • Obtain patient’s consent and call a Domestic Abuse Advocate as soon as possible.


  • A new initiative, based out of the University of Kentucky, Lexington aims to train and prepare a new body of observers to take to the front lines in this difficult struggle. Who are these individuals? Dentists.

    While a woman who has suffered from domestic violence might be kept from going to a doctor by a hyper-vigilant abusing spouse, dental visits are often allowed while the evidence of abuse is still visible. This is an opportunity that can be used to help the mass of women (some studies say up to 25 percent of American women) who are in abusive relationships.

    The initiative began as a result of a recent survey in Kentucky, which revealed that few dentists have had training in accurately spotting domestic violence, yet more than half revealed that they needed training both in spotting abuse, and in dealing with the victims from that point on.

    Furthermore, although the greater proportion of dentists do not make attempts to identify or otherwise assist victims of domestic violence, most dentists expressed a great desire to begin doing so and showed a commitment to furthering their abilities to help.

    The result?

    The research team from University of Kentucky (U.K.) – which includes doctors Judith Skelton, Karen West and Christopher Herren, all from the U.K. College of Dentistry – has dubbed their project “The Curricular Response to Deficits in Training Related to Domestic Violence.” The project was funded by the U.K. Center for Research on Violence Against Women.

    The project consists of the development of a multi-purpose training program that will allow dental professionals to know how to respond accurately. The program is three hours long, in workshop format and was presented to more than 300 dentists at the Kentucky Dental Association’s yearly meeting. The practical workshop includes a toolkit to supplement the proceedings with reference materials, contact information for local abuse agencies, helpful questions for patient assessment and guidelines to help aid a successful response. A CD-ROM training program is even included for training office personnel.

    A further curriculum to be used in dental school is under development at this time.

    The efforts of Skelton, West and Herren have fueled a greater response, garnering a grant from the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet. That grant is earmarked for the creation of a response and referral network.

    “We are very grateful for the support we received from the Center for Research on Violence Against Women and applaud U.K.’s efforts to broaden the research in this area,” said Judy Skelton, associate professor and the project’s lead researcher. “Drs. Chris Herren and Larry Cunningham, two of the initial collaborators, have continued to write grants and receive funding to expand our efforts to involve our students and more dental practitioners in the state with information about how to make assessment and response an integral and routine part of dental care.”

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