A top dental surgeon has revealed his methods behind identifying victims of child abuse through dentistry.
Professor Richard Welbury has worked as a dental surgeon for decades, but it is his work in making dentists aware of their wider responsibilities to keep kids in their care safe that sets his apart from the rest.
He told the Daily Record: “A dentist is trained to look at the whole face and head and neck as part of their examination.
“I became involved in this in the early 1980s when I was working in Newcastle. I studied medicine and dentistry.”
There was one case which prompted his lifelong mission to help abused children.
He said: “It was a case I admitted one night when I was a member of junior staff in plastic surgery.
“The child had his hand held against the grill of a gas fire. He had a right-angle burn corresponding to the grill.
“That was the case that got me thinking more about these types of injuries. In plastic surgery, up to 10 per cent of burns in young children could be non-accidental.
“When I came back into dentistry full-time, I thought this was an area we were really not involved in and I couldn’t see why we couldn’t get involved in it.
“We know more about children’s mouths than anyone else. No one else has the expertise.”
First, Richard looked at the published data on child physical abuse, which showed 50% of victims will have signs on their head and neck.
He said: “There will be bruises or abrasions that could be seen by a dental team. There is a fair amount of evidence of that.
“Research myself and colleagues did in the early 2000s in Scotland agreed with data from the US.”
The second sign of abuse is dental neglect or decay.
Richard said: “Dentists inform the parents what causes dental decay where a child might have it.
“After receiving information about diet and lifestyle, offering them treatment and arranging a time to come back in, if parents don’t come back that’s dental neglect.
“The next step for us in our guidelines would be to interface with other health bodies.
“In each part of the UK, we have child protection teams where there are nurses you can ring for advice. A child protection nurse can help a dentist decide if this family needs to be referred to social services.
“In the last five years, more dental teams are liasing with protection teams than ever.”
Richard and his team wrote the first national guidelines on child protection, published in 2006 and the basis for dental teams throughout the UK.
It has since been translated into Greek, Croatian and Italian.
Richard, who is based at Glasgow Dental Hospital, has now been nominated for a Scottish Health Award as a result of his work in helping children.
He said his nomination came as “a huge surprise”.
He said: “I didn’t even know I had been nominated until I got the call saying I was a finalist. I am very humbled to be in the final.”
Richard and the finalists in the 16 categories at this year’s health awards will be honoured at a ceremony in the Corn Exchange, Edinburgh, on November 4, hosted by comedian Fred MacAuley.