Patients visiting the dentist for lesions to the jaw and teeth could be victims of domestic violence, US researchers warn. Oral biomarkers that might signal domestic violence include tears, fractures, breaks, and chips in the teeth and mouth.

Published in the Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment and Trauma in mid-April, the article reports that up to 75 percent of cranial and cervical trauma associated with domestic violence occurs following injuries to the mouth.  As such, dentists could spot potential victims of domestic violence in patients visiting them for consultation.

“It is an opportunity for dentists to be early detectors who can refer those individuals for follow-up care,” said Dr. Jonathan Lifshitz, director of the Translational Neurotrauma Research Program at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, Phoenix, and study author.

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Signs that could indicate brain injury include jaw and tooth fractures, trauma to mouth or jaw nerves, and lesions to the nasal bone. Discoloration of the teeth, blunted roots and pulpal necrosis — the death of cells and tissue in the center of a tooth — can also be signs of previous dental trauma which merit further examination.

The research also showed that dentists receive no or little information of how to identify potential victims of domestic violence and discuss it with them. “Many find it interesting, however, they have little experience. It is interesting that very stringent protocols exist in pediatric dentistry, but a large gap exists when dealing with teens, young adults and adults in general,” said Midwestern University dental student and study author Timothy W. Ellis.