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Dental hygienists trained to spot abuse

By Stefania Seccia

BC Dental Hygienists' Association has partnered with the Ending Violence Association of BC.

BC Dental Hygienists' Association has partnered with the Ending Violence Association of BC. FOTOLIA

Reporting domestic violence isn’t something normally associated with the dentist’s office, but the BC Dental Hygienists’ Association is looking to make the connection.

Dental hygienists are among the first health-care professionals to recognize signs of abuse, according to Cindy Fletcher, the association’s executive director. An estimated 75% of physical injuries during episodes of abuse against women by an intimate partner are inflicted to the head, face, mouth and neck.

The association has partnered with Ending Violence Association of BC to access specialized training and promote an awareness campaign to the group’s 3,000 members.

“It’s certainly part of the dental hygienists’ baseline education, introducing signs of abuse,” she said. “This partnership will take things to the next level to further educate dental hygienists, not only of the emotional and physical signs, but the tools to start that difficult conversation with somebody.”

As female patients may consistently see the dentist every six months to a year, dental hygienists can witness behavioural indicators of abuse in the practice setting, such as interactions between partners, and over time can establish a relationship that could lead to disclosures of abuse.

Given that 98% of dental hygienists are women, and one-in-four Canadian women experience physical violence, the partnership “is a natural fit,” said Fletcher.

“Sometimes, it’s as simple as giving out victim support numbers or letting a person know you’re there and can help them with those resources,” she said.

B.C. dental hygienists will now have access to an online training program that helps recognize abuse indicators. There will also be a B.C.-specific resource package.

Fletcher said they plan on having some members championing the cause across the province, to become “local experts” to speak to other groups and raise awareness amongst the profession and public.

“The public doesn’t resonate that this is something that fits with the dental hygienist profession, but as we unravel this, this makes sense and is something dental hygienists should be involved with,” she said.