Domestic Violence and Oral Health

With the story of Ray Rice all over the national news, domestic violence is being discussed in almost every circle. In case you missed it, Ray Rice, a young running back for the Baltimore Ravens, was released from the team and suspended from the NFL indefinitely earlier this week after a video was released of him violently punching his wife unconscious in an elevator. Very coincidentally, a story linking domestic abuse and poor oral health was published just last week. According to a WebMd article, a recent study made a very interesting connection between violence and verbal aggression with cavities and missing teeth.

Researchers analyzed 135 married or cohabiting heterosexual couples and their elementary school-aged kids. The families were mostly caucasian with an annual income of about $100,000. After oral examinations were conducted, looking at the number of decayed, missing or filled teeth, and questionnaires about physical and emotional aggression between partners and between parents and children were completed, researchers were able to make some very interesting conclusions. On average, women had 3.5 additional cavities while men had 5.3 more for every above-average statistical increase in their partners’ harmful behavior toward them. Children had an average of nearly 2 more cavities than normal for every above-average increase in their mothers’ emotional aggression toward their partners.

The study author, Michael Lorber, director of developmental research for the Family Translational Research Group at NYU’s College of Dentistry, stated that in addition to disrupting healthy eating habits and oral health, noxious family environments may also impact the effectiveness of the immune system, potentially leading to more tooth decay. While researchers pointed out that their findings do not necessarily prove that damaging family behaviors cause poor oral health, it isn’t far-fetched to conclude that physical and verbal abuse in the home way lead a person to neglect their teeth and/or consume more food or beverages that are detrimental to teeth and gums. It’s also been shown that the immune system does not operate at full capacity in hostile environments. The study potentially puts dentists in the unique position of identifying patients who are living in a dysfunctional family environments, giving them the opportunity to share helpful resources with them. It’s yet another way that dentists can be on the front-line of overall health and wellness for their patients. The mouth truly is the window to our overall health.

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