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Dentistry's Role in Domestic Violence:

Bullying does not only happen in schools and work. Statistics have shown that annually, 1.5 million men and women are victims of intimate partner violence (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence). Research has indicated that a majority of the injuries caused by the abuse are trauma to the face, head and neck and dentists are often in the position of correcting teeth impacted by the behavior.

Tabloid headlines have been filled with tales of domestic abuse from Hollywood's elite to the masses living throughout the country. Dentists are often the first line of defense in both noticing the condition and providing cosmetic dentistry needed to repair the damage done to boost the self-esteem of the unfortunate victims.

Dentists Can Help Victims

Victims of domestic abuse primarily go without help, as a majority of the attacks are not reported to the proper authorities. As a result, the medical and dental communities often act as the first line of defense as victims count on their help to relieve physical pain and repair the devastation. Because many dentists have had contact with the patients, the proximity to the victims has made it important for dentists to be a resource for those needing assistance.

Dentistry is a science and trained dental care providers can easily pick up on the tell-tell signs of abuse when providing a dental exam. Although teeth are incredibly strong, they can still chip, break and fracture. A trained eye can easily detect excessive amounts of damage. Tooth damage combined with other indicators such as dental anxiety, emotional withdrawal, lack of cash, unusual bruising and poor explanations as to why the damage exists in the first place can all indicate domestic abuse. Dentists who spot these signs must choose their words and actions carefully in order to prevent exasperating the issue.

Dental care providers are encouraged not to provide advice on how to deal with the situation as they can unknowingly make matters instead. Dentists should provide information on how a victim can get the help he or she needs and what local services are available to assist. Studies published in the Journal of the American Dental Association (2006) have laid out a four-stage intervention process called AVDR that dentists can use to help victims. The process involves:

  • Asking
  • Validating
  • Documenting
  • Referring

Dentistry Helps with Healing

Nearly everyone considers a great smile to be a valuable asset and domestic abuse survivors may be lacking that important feature. One program developed by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD) called "Give Back a Smile," provides free consultations and dental treatments to survivors of domestic abuse;page=556).

There are tales of domestic abuse resulting in a myriad of dental problems such as missing teeth, broken jaws and other injuries. Not only can that trauma prevent victims from speaking properly and getting proper nutrition, until the damage is repaired their face will provide them with a constant reminder of their suffering. While dental treatments and cosmetic dentistry cannot erase the memories of abuse, a smile filled with beautiful and full functioning teeth can make a person look whole and hide the physical damage. That modification will allow victims to reclaim their identity as well as their self-confidence.

Help for Victims of Domestic Violence

Individuals who have experienced a diminished quality of life caused by living in fear of their partners erratic and cruel behavior must first accept that there is a problem. Today's threat can evolve into tomorrow's violence and denying the problem will only enable an abusive partner to have his or her way.

Once a person acknowledges that they are victims, there are plenty of resources available to assist. Calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-787-3224) will provide a much needed life line.

Domestic violence victims still suffering from the dental injuries they were subjected to during abuse can contact GBAS at (800) 773-GBAS (4227) to be guided through the application process. Once program acceptance has been delivered, survivors will be connected with GBAS volunteers who will provide complimentary dental treatment.

Individuals looking to repair their teeth on their own can call 1-800-DENTIST to get the number of a compassionate and caring dentist close to home.