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COVID-19 and domestic violence: How dentists can help those in need

A recent article in the British Dental Journal detailed the role dental professionals can play in identifying and referring victims of domestic violence and abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Image: Syda Productions/Shutterstock)
Brendan Day, Dental Tribune International

Brendan Day, Dental Tribune International

Thu. 20. August 2020


LONDON, UK: Social distancing and isolation measures introduced in countless countries during the ongoing SARS-CoV-2 pandemic have undeniably helped to curb the virus’s spread. One unintended and negative side effect, however, has been a rise in the incidence of domestic violence. A paper recently published in the British Dental Journal (BDJ) sought to clarify what role dental professionals, particularly oral and maxillofacial surgeons, play in such situations and how they can better help patients who have been affected by this form of abuse.

According to UN Women—a United Nations body dedicated to gender equality—the outbreak of COVID-19 has been accompanied by a shadow pandemic of increased domestic violence against women. In Argentina, for example, emergency calls related directly to instances of domestic violence have risen by 25% since the pandemic began. Meanwhile, a survey from the Australian Institute of Criminology has revealed that a shocking 8.8% of Australian women in a relationship were subjected to violence by a cohabiting partner between February and May this year.

Dentists need to help victims of domestic violence

As emphasised by the authors of the article in the BDJ, studies suggest that between 65% and 95% of physical domestic violence assaults result in facial trauma for the victim. Therefore, dental professionals often have an important duty to identify patients who may have been assaulted in this manner and to refer them immediately to the appropriate local agencies and services.

Approaching suspected victims of domestic violence can be difficult, however, in situations where disclosure of such incidents may not be possible—for example, if the perpetrator of the violence is present. According to the authors, this is particularly true if a consultation is performed via telephone while the patient is in his or her home. In such instances, it can be helpful to arrange a referral to a suitable agency through another communication method or, if possible, discreetly provide the patient with a contact number to be used at a safer time.

Dr Paul Coulthard, co-author of the study and dean for dentistry, institute director and professor of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at Queen Mary University of London’s Institute of Dentistry, told Dental Tribune International that he hopes that one unexpected bright spot of the pandemic will be the creation of new ways for dental professional teams to safely identify and contact domestic violence victims.

“There has been a heightened awareness of the increased risk of domestic violence and abuse because of restrictions on movement and the need for household isolation, so dental professionals and the oral maxillofacial surgery team should be increasing their alertness and commitment to identification and referral,” Coulthard said.

The paper, titled “COVID-19, domestic violence and abuse, and urgent dental and oral and maxillofacial surgery care”, was published online on 26 June 2020 in the British Dental Journal.

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