CDO for England encourages dental teams to help survivors and victims of domestic abuse

16 February 2021
2 min read

In her latest NHS dentistry and oral health update, CDO Sara Hurley has called on the dental profession to help spot the signs of domestic abuse and to support survivors and victims.

Ms Hurley’s letter reads:

Dear colleague,

I want to draw your attention to domestic abuse and how dental teams can, and should, help survivors and victims.

There is never an excuse for domestic abuse, no matter what the circumstances are, and during the period of national restrictions this issue is more important than ever.

Dental professionals are likely to observe and identify injuries to the head, eyes, ears, neck, face, mouth and teeth, as well as other welfare concerns.

Combating domestic abuse is not just a medical mission, it’s a moral mission too.

Dentistry, like all other areas of the NHS and healthcare, must do its bit to help the patient and each other.

So, in this bulletin we've brought together the key things you need to know to spot domestic abuse, support the patient and help protect your staff and yourselves, too.

Public Health England's Sandra White reminds us of the key guidance for dental teams on domestic abuse and safeguarding, we share Professor Paul Coulthard’s excellent blog on identification and referral in dental settings and we've included key communications materials such as posters and social media graphics for you to use. 

Today's ‘By Word of Mouth’ shoutout goes to Simon Hearnshaw and the team in North Yorkshire and the Humber for their excellent work with children. The British Society of Paediatric Dentistry has awarded them with their Outstanding Innovation Award. Their work is truly excellent and forward thinking. 

Kind wishes as always,


The bulletin continues:

Recognising the signs of domestic abuse 

Anyone can be a victim of domestic abuse, regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, socio-economic status, sexuality or background.

Domestic abuse is not always physical violence. It can also include:

  • Coercive control and ‘gaslighting’
  • Economic abuse
  • Online abuse
  • Threats and intimidation
  • Emotional abuse
  • Sexual abuse

The government's web page on spotting the signs has a checklist on what to look out for.

Potential signs of domestic abuse which might present at a dental appointment

General signs:

  • Always accompanied by partner or family member, who frequently speaks for patient or cancels patient’s appointments
  • Patient displays high levels of anxiety
  • Delay in seeking treatment
  • Presentation doesn't fit the explanation provided

Oral and facial signs:

  • Facial or intraoral bruising or laceration
  • Teeth lost due to trauma
  • Fractures to nose, cheek or jaw
  • Torn fraenum
  • Bite marks
  • Hair loss

The full bulletin is available here.