Brush Up on Oral Health

Identifying Oral Health Signs of Child Maltreatment

Young girl sitting on floor with a stuffed toy that has an X for one of its eyes.Child maltreatment includes all types of abuse and neglect of a child under age 18 by a parent, caregiver, or another person in a custodial role. There are four types of maltreatment: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect.

When children are maltreated, their health and well-being may be affected. Often, there are behavioral and psychological changes among children who are maltreated. Sudden changes in a child’s behavior, such as being fearful of certain places or people or acting in ways that are not normal, may occur in children who are maltreated.

Head Start staff can play an important role in helping to prevent child maltreatment by building on family strengths, supporting families under stress, and protecting children who are at risk.

This Brush Up on Oral Health tip sheet describes oral health signs of physical and sexual abuse. It also highlights resources available to Head Start staff to help them support families.

Oral Health Signs of Child Maltreatment

These are the oral health signs of children who are physically and sexually abused:

  • Physical abuse. Oral injuries can result from a range of causes, from being hit to forced exposure to hot liquids or harsh chemicals. If physical abuse is suspected, oral health signs may include cuts in the mouth, loosened or broken teeth, and bruises or other injuries to the face.
  • Sexual abuse. Oral injuries are a common result of sexual abuse, but these injuries are harder to identify than oral injuries from physical abuse. If sexual abuse is suspected, oral health signs may include unexplained soreness, redness, or bruising around the mouth and on the roof of the mouth toward the back of the child’s throat.

Resources for Head Start StaffA small child's hand being held by an adult hand.

There are many resources to help Head Start staff learn more about working with families to prevent child maltreatment, recognize oral health signs of child maltreatment, and learn requirements for reporting suspected child maltreatment to the state child protection agency.

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