Dental neglect: systematic review

Child Protection Evidence is a resource for clinicians across the UK and internationally to inform clinical practice, child protection procedures and professional and expert opinion in the legal system.


Varying definitions of dental neglect exist and broadly encompass “the persistent failure to meet a child’s basic oral health needs, which is likely to result in the serious impairment of the child’s oral or general health and development”. This systematic review evaluates the scientific literature on abusive and non-abusive dental neglect in children published up until November 2014 and reflects the findings of eligible studies. The review aims to answer one clinical question:

    • What are the parent/carer characteristics of a child with dental neglect, and what oral features are present in these children?

Key findings:

    • Two new studies in 2014 have addressed dental neglect among pre-school children, including antenatal neglect and its impact on dentition. There has been increasing interest in the oral features of children experiencing other forms of maltreatment, and the impact of dental neglect on children
    • Failure to attend appointments when the child is experiencing pain or discomfort, or failure to adhere to a recommended treatment plan should prompt a full investigation of the explanation for this
    • Dentists are strongly encouraged to collaborate with their local safeguarding / child protection team in order to ensure that prompt and appropriate referrals are made when concerns regarding dental neglect arise
Disclaimer: This is a summary of the systematic review findings from our most recent literature search. If you have a specific clinical case, we strongly recommend you read all of the relevant references as cited and look for additional material published outside our search dates.

Original reviews and content © Cardiff University, funded by NSPCC

Published by RCPCH July 2017

While the format of each review has been revised to fit the style of the College and amalgamated into a comprehensive document, the content remains unchanged until reviewed and new evidence is identified and added to the evidence-base. Updated content will be indicated on individual review pages.

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