Oral health conditions and socio economic status have been linked for years. Dentists often report cases where oral disease was seen in children and adults from low income communities. Such studies have sought to document statistical data that could be used to educate and treat individuals that rarely visited their dentists or didn’t have any means of attaining treatment. Most often, children from these underprivileged communities report the worst cases of gum disease, caries, or tooth decay. But is there more to these studies? Does the information give insight into the child’s overall quality of life?
Dentists have always been required to report abuse cases to social services when it’s suspected, usually by observing dreadful oral health conditions. A recent study was conducted in Sweden that investigated the prevalence and characteristics of documented reports from dentists to social services where child maltreatment was suspected. The groups from the Department of Dental Medicine at the Karolinska Institute in Huddinge, Sweden, wanted to evaluate these how often such cases occurred.
The group gathered a collection of mandated reports from a targeted area of Sweden for six years, between 2008 and 2014. In total, 147 reports were collected from dental professionals and 111 children were indicated in the reports. In many of the cases, the children were found to come from impoverished conditions. By conducting a long term study, the researchers were able to evaluate a large sample of people who provided varied results. Still, consistencies were found.
The results of the study showed that 1.5 out of 1000 children were reported to social services by their dentist. There were also a higher amount of cases reported between 2008 and 2011, a possible indicator of the damaged U.S. economy and its effect on U.S. citizens. But the biggest concern of the study was the prevalence of cases that indicated child maltreatment either by parental deficiencies (failure to attend appointments) or neglect of dental treatment.
The mandated reports were sent to social services authorities who eventually followed up on each case. The incidents were significant enough that the dental professional felt that child maltreatment needed to be reported. The presence of advanced gum disease and tooth erosion on children younger than ten years old was a serious indicator to the dental professionals that primary caregivers were seriously failing in that area. The oral conditions of these children placed them at risk for more sever conditions and the parents had to be reported to social services in order to prevent a future disaster.