All healthcare staff who come into contact with children or vulnerable adults are required to take an appropriate level of training as an expectation of their role. As a result, dental health teams now play a vital part in the wider strategy for safeguarding children.

As you will be aware, the CQC has an expectation that staff will be trained to an appropriate level, and an inspector will likely want to see records of the training undertaken as well as the safeguarding measures in place. They will also want assurance that the appropriate staff are aware of the arrangements for internal recording of concern and the external process of reporting should a protection issue arise. In short, you must have a protection policy in place and it must be embedded into your working practices.

However, there is much more to this requirement that just hitting the mark with the paperwork.

As someone who comes into regular contact with children, young people and vulnerable adults, a dental health professional is in a unique position to identify potential abuse. The regular – or, perhaps, in this context, irregular – visits to the practice offer a point of contact where the indicators of abuse can come to light. Oral hygiene, or the lack thereof, missed appointments for recommended treatment and overall poor dental health can all be indicators of a wider issue.

There is a need for professional judgement when assessing whether poor oral hygiene or practice is a cause for concern beyond the immediate need for treatment, because childhood tooth decay is, after all, quite a common problem. Professional judgement and training will need to combine for a formal decision to be made on whether the child is safe or if they are at risk from impairment to oral or general health and wellbeing, and also if there are indicators of further abuse.

When it comes to the safety of vulnerable adults, young people, and children, being able to recognise the signs of abuse during a routine dental visit could be the catalyst to a problem being recognised and someone at risk being identified and reported. Safeguarding is everyone’s concern, but dental teams can be the fine line between an incident going undetected and someone being given access to the help they need.