Perceptions of the Dental Team's Role in Domestic Violence Identification

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Perceptions of the Dental Team’s Role in Domestic Violence Identification

To investigate the perception of the Dental Team’s role in Domestic Violence (DV) identification.
DV also called domestic abuse or intimate partner violence, is a major public health problem and a violation of human rights (WHO 2005). It is defined as “any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behavior, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality” (UK Home office, 2013). Individuals suffering DV often become socially isolated with no one to turn to for support. DV is under reported across all populations and ethnicities. In the United Kingdom 30.0% of women and 16.3% of men aged over 16 have experienced domestic abuse at some point in their life (UK Office for national Statistics, 2014)
Whilst both men and women can be victims of DV, UK DV statistics show that the consequences for women are usually more severe. In the UK approximately half of all female murder victims aged sixteen years or over are killed by their partner or ex-partner as opposed to 12 percent of male murder victims. (UK Office for National Statistics, 2013)
The serious potential consequences of DV highlight the need for health care professionals to competently identify and give appropriate advice when DV is suspected. Approximately 65-75% of injuries sustained by victims of DV occur on the head, mouth and neck. (Gutmann et al.,2002; Lincoln and Lincoln, 2010; Wu et al., 2010). Thus Dentists are uniquely placed to identify DV, particularly since individuals continue to attend routine dental appointments. However, previous research has shown that dentists do not necessarily recognize the signs and symptoms of DV (e.g. strangulation; Gwinn et al., 2004), feel the least responsible of all health professionals for DV care and feel underprepared to respond and respond the least when they suspect DV (Harmer-Beem, 2005; Hendler et al., 2007). Presently only one third of Dental Schools in the UK and Ireland teach about DV in their curriculum (Patel et al., 2014)

This paper reports the round table discussion findings on Dentistry and Domestic Violence conducted at the 12th Colloquium of the Innovations in Education, University of Brescia, Italy (May 2014). Delegates, drawn from 14 countries and three continents (Europe, North American and Australia), were predominantly senior staff in their field across a range of specialities and undergraduate dental students from the University of Brescia. To inform the roundtable discussion a voluntary, anonymous audience response exercise was conducted during an oral presentation on the topic of Dentistry and Domestic Violence. The exercise was conducted in English and the purpose was to gather on-the-spot feedback of audience perceptions. Ten questions were circulated using a 4-point Likert Scale response format. Space was provided for optional written comments.

The roundtable discussion occurred on the subsequent day informed by the findings of the audience participation exercise. The roundtable aimed to: reach consensus on whether domestic violence is an issue that warrants the attention of the Dental Team and elucidate core elements of future work including innovative educational solutions.

Fifty seven questionnaires were returned and responses tabulated. The findings of the audience participation exercise resonate with existing literature on DV and the Dental Team. Overall the majority selected the “quite” or “somewhat” response to questions revealing a lack of certainty around DV and professional responsibility. 42% of the participants considered that DV was “quite” or “somewhat” sufficiently covered by the dental curriculum which is broadly in line with the work of Patel et al., (2014). Only 37% of the participants considered that the average Dentist was either “very” or “quite” competent to ask a patient about suspected DV and only 28% considered that a Dentist was “very” or “quite” likely to ask a patient about DV. 79% (“very” or “quite” necessary) considered that DV training should be include in the curriculum.

The Dental Team is uniquely placed to identify victims of DV, yet it is not covered in the curricula of the majority of Dental Schools internationally. Rigorous research is urgently needed to assess DV content and skills training in Dental curricula.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Dental Education
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2015


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