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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2014  |  Volume : 5  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 256-259  

Child abuse: A classic case report with literature review

Department of Paediatric Dentistry and Orthodontics, University of Nairobi, Kenya

Date of Web Publication13-May-2014

Correspondence Address:
Arthur M. Kemoli
Department of Paediatric Dentistry and Orthodontics, University of Nairobi, P.O. Box 34848 00100, Nairobi
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0976-237X.132380

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Child abuse and neglect are serious global problems and can be in the form of physical, sexual, emotional or just neglect in providing for the child's needs. These factors can leave the child with serious, long-lasting psychological damage. In the present case report, a 12-year-old orphaned boy was physically abused by a close relative who caused actual bodily and emotional trauma to the boy. After satisfactorily managing the trauma and emotional effects to the patient, in addition to the counseling services provided to the caregiver, the patient made a steady recovery. He was also referred to a child support group for social support, and prepare him together with his siblings for placement in a children's home in view of the hostile environment in which they were living.

Keywords: Etiology, child abuse, child neglect, management

How to cite this article:
Kemoli AM, Mavindu M. Child abuse: A classic case report with literature review. Contemp Clin Dent 2014;5:256-9

How to cite this URL:
Kemoli AM, Mavindu M. Child abuse: A classic case report with literature review. Contemp Clin Dent [serial online] 2014 [cited 2022 Jan 26];5:256-9. Available from:

   Introduction Top

For a long time, child protection in general has been perceived as a matter for the professionals specializing in social service, health, mental health, and justice systems. However, this problem remains a duty to all, and more so a concern for other social scientists such as anthropologists, economists, historians, planners, political scientists, sociologists, and humanists (e.g., ethicists, legal scholars, political theorists, and theologians) who contribute to the understanding of the concepts of and strategies in child protection and the responsibility for adults and institutions with roles in ensuring the safety and the humane care of children under their care. Child abuse, therefore, is when harm or threat of harm is made to a child by someone acting in the role of caretaker. [1],[2] It is a worldwide problem with no social, ethnic, and racial bounds. [3] Child abuse can be in the form of physical abuse, when the child suffers bodily harm as a result of a deliberate attempt to hurt the child, or severe discipline or physical punishment inappropriate to the child's age. It can be sexual abuse arising from subjecting the child to inappropriate exposure to sexual acts or materials or passive use of the child as sexual stimuli and/or actual sexual contacts. Child abuse can also be in the form of emotional abuse involving coercive, constant belittling, shaming, humiliating a child, making negative comparisons to others, frequent yelling, threatening, or bullying of the child, rejecting and ignoring the child as punishment, having limited physical contact with the child (e.g., no hugs, kisses, or other signs of affection), exposing the child to violence or abuse of others or any other demeaning acts. All these factors can lead to interference with the child's normal social or psychological development leaving the child with lifelong psychological scars. Lastly, child abuse can be in the form of child neglect, when an able caregiver fails to provide basic needs, adequate food, clothing, hygiene, supervision shelter, supervision, medical care, or support to the child. [4]

It is usually difficult to detect child abuse, unless one creates an atmosphere that would encourage disclosure by the child being abused. [5] Nonetheless, a good medical and social history may help to unravel the problem. Signs and symptoms of child abuse commonly include subnormal growth of the child, unexplained head and dental injuries, soft-tissue injuries like bruises and bite marks, burns and bony injuries like broken ribs, in the absence of a history pointing to the cause or causes of the trauma. The present case report describes a child who was abuse by a very close relative, and who caused physical and psychological trauma to the young lad.

   Case Report Top

Peter, a 12-year-old boy, accompanied by his maternal aunt, presented at the local university Dental Hospital (Pediatric Dental Clinic) in Kenya in October 2012, with a complaint of a large, painful left facial swelling related to the left upper incisors. He had been referred from a local rural hospital where he had been taken by the same aunt, for treatment of the swelling. The swelling had occurred only 2 days prior to visiting the local hospital, and 4 days before presenting himself at the University Dental Hospital. Enquiry about the causes of the swelling provided unclear answers. Family history indicated that the young boy was a first-born among three siblings (9-year-old girl, 5-year-old boy), and that their single parent (mother) had been deceased for 6 years due to HIV-related complications. The three children had moved to live with their maternal grandparents and their seven sons. The patient had no adverse past medical history and had never consulted a dentist previous to the present problem. The boy was in grade seven in a local primary school and had the aspiration of becoming a medical doctor in future. It was not possible to establish from the aunt or the boy the situation of the patient's other siblings.

An extra-oral examination showed a young boy with a normal gait, sickly, unkempt, rather withdrawn, and small for his age. He had asymmetrical face due to the swelling involving his left submandibular region and spreading upwards to the inferior orbital margin, febrile (39.1°C), a marked submandibular lymphadenopathy on the left side, the skin overlying the swelling was warm, shiny and fluctuant, and the lips were dry and incompetent (2 cm) and as shown in [Figures 1]a-c. However, the temporomandibular joint movements were normal. The patient was also found to have a big, healing scar on the dorsal surface of the left foot, the cause of which was also unclear [Figure 1].
Figure 1: (a) Frontal and (b) lateral (c) profiles of the patient showing the facial asymmetry with the left submandibular to infra-orbital and the healing scar on the foot

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Intra-oral examination revealed a young boy in the permanent dentition with un-erupted third permanent molars, poor oral hygiene with heavy plaque deposits on the tongue and a generalized but moderate inflammation of the gingiva. There was a grade three mobility in relation to 11, 12, 21, 22 and a grade two mobility in relation to 23, 24, 25 (Miller mobility index). There was intramucosal swelling in relation to 21-24 extending labially/buccally (measuring 4 cm × 3 cm) and palatally (measuring 3 cm × 2 cm). On elevation of the upper lip, active discharge of pus mixed with blood and some black granules could be seen emanating from the abscess. There were no alveolar/bone fractures elicited, but carious lesions were present on 46 (occlusal), 47 and 37 (buccal). Orthodontic evaluation showed Angles class I molar relation on the left and edge to edge tending to class II on the right side. The canines were in class I relationship bilaterally. There was an anterior over-jet of 3 mm (11/21), an overbite of 20%, coincidental dental/facial midline and crowding on the upper right arch with 15 palatally displaced as can be seen in [Figure 2]a-c.
Figure 2: (a) Intra-oral photographs of the patient showing the labial and (b) palatial swelling in relation to displaced 21 and 22 (c), generalized marginal gingival inflammation, palatally displaced 15, moderate dental plaque deposits and a moderate anterior dental crowding in the lower dental arch

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For investigations, orthopantogram, intra-oral periapical 11, 12, upper and lower standard occlusal and bite wing radiographs were taken and examined. In addition, clinical photographs, study models, and vitality tests for the traumatized teeth were undertaken. A diet and nutrition assessment, full blood count, stool microscopic analysis for ova and cyst and bacterial culture and sensitivity were also undertaken.

The results of the radiographs showed un-erupted with potential impaction of 48 and 38, an upper midline radioluscence, widened periodontal space in relation to 11, 21 (with a mesial tilt), 22, occlusal caries on 46 and buccal caries on 47 and 37. There was the presence of root fractures involving the apical one-third of 21, 22. Vitality tests conducted on the traumatized incisors showed false positive (may be due to the presence of infection). The blood analysis showed the presence of neutrophilia (suggestive of bacterial infection), mild iron deficiency, but he was sero-negative. From the diet chart, the boy was generally on a noncariogenic diet that lacked the intake of fruits and animal proteins. Nutritional assessment revealed a boy with a height of 144 cm, a weight of 28 kg, and a body mass index (BMI) of 13.5 Kg/m 2 (below 5 th percentile (given the ideal BMI should be 17.8 Kg/m 2 in the 50 th percentile).

From the history adduced and the results of the investigations, a diagnosis of child abuse and neglect was reached, with the boy having suffered traumatic injuries resulting in facial cellulitis, Ellis class VI fracture involving 21, 22 associated dentoalveolar abscess and subluxation of 11, 12. In addition, there were dental carious lesions on 46 (occlusally), 47 and 37 (buccally) and a relatively severe malnutrition. The patient had also moderate plaque induced gingivitis, mild anemia (microcytic and iron deficiency), mild dental fluorosis, potentially impacted 48 and 38 and crowding in the upper right and lower anterior arches.


The objective of treating the boy was to eliminate the pain, infection, improve the general and oral health, restore carious teeth, improve esthetic and report the child abuse and neglect to the relevant authorities. In the initial phase of treatment, the patient was admitted for 4 days and placed on dexamethasone 8 mg stat, cefuroxime 750 mg 3 times a day, metronidazole 500 mg 3 times a day, diclofenac 50 mg tablets alternating 4 hourly with oral paracetamol 1000 mg 3 times a day, to run for 5 days. Patient was also placed on chlorhexidine mouthwash 10 ml twice daily for 7 days and ranferon (hematinics) 10 ml to be used twice a day for 1 month. The second phase of treatment included incision and drainage of the abscess, followed by the splinting of the mobile teeth in the upper dental arch using semi-rigid splint of 0.6 mm stainless steel round wire for 4 weeks while. Root canal treatment of 11, 21, 12, and 22 followed thereafter. [6] A referral of the patient was made the child support center in the main referral hospital, plus the patient was placed on future recalls to determine whether the patient would have overcome the problem and the oral health was maintained in good condition.

The third phase of treatment involved interceptive orthodontics with the extraction of 15 to relieve the crowding in the area. Oral hygiene instructions were availed to the patient and the guardian, placement of fissure sealants was done for the premolars and molars to help reduce plaque retention on these teeth, preventive resin restorations were placed on 37, 46, and 47. The root fractures involving the apical one-third of 21 and 22 meant that the two teeth were to be initially dressed using non setting calcium hydroxide, and after healing, root canals are filled in the usual manner [Figure 3].
Figure 3: Postobturation intraoral periapial radiograph showing the restoration on 12, 11, 21, and 22

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Nutrition evaluation had initially been done and when the patient was re-evaluated after 1 month, he had gained bodyweight up to 1 kg. The child support center continued to carry out psychotherapy, and during one of the sessions, the patient confessed to having undergone physical abuse and threatened not to divulge any information by one of the uncles. The center considered placing the boy into a children's home, probably together with his siblings. Radiographic examinations evaluation after 3 months indicated some external apical root resorption taking place on 21 and 22. Further follows-ups were to continue. [7] After 10 months, the oral health and general heath of the patient had remarkably improved as shown in [Figure 4].
Figure 4: Posttreatment photographs taken after 10 months showing improved oral health of the patient and the glimmer of confidence in the patient as shown in a-d respectively

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   Discussion Top

All types of child abuse and neglect leave the affected child with long-lasting scars that may be physical or psychological, but they are the emotional scars that leave the child with life-long effects, damage to the child's sense of self, the ability to build healthy relationships and function at home, work or school. This situation can in turn result in the child turning to alcohol or drugs to numb the painful feelings. On the other hand, the exposure by the child to violence during childhood can increase vulnerability of that child to mental and physical health problems like anxiety disorder, depression, etc., [8],[9] and make victims more likely to become perpetrators of violence later in life. [10] The oral cavity can be a central focus for physical abuse due to its significance in communication and nutrition. [3],[11]

A neglected and abused child like the one described here, can become helpless and passive, displaying less affect to anything whether positive or negative in his or her encounters. [12] The patient described was vulnerable to abuse as he already lacked the parental protection in his early life, and was living in a poor, but large family where competition for available resources must have been stiff. The abuser, therefore, his own uncle, probably did not like their presence gave him the assumption that the children would grow up to take away what he probably thought would be his dues from the family.

In Kenya and even in many other countries, data on the prevalence of child abuse is still scarce. A Kenyan study undertaken in 2013 showed that violence against children was very high, with 31.9% and 17.5% female and male, respectively reporting having been exposed to sexual violence, 65.8% and 72.9% female and male respectively to physical violence. In the same study, 18.2% and 24.5% female and male, respectively had been abused prior to attaining 18 years of age, and only 23.8% female and 20.6% male reported not having experienced any form of violence during childhood. [13] Child abuse in Kenya, therefore, appears to be a rampant problem within the society. In all cases of abuse reported in the literature, the perpetrators were most often well-known to the children. The motive of child abuse has not always clear, just as it was the case with the patient described here. The patient under study here hailed from a family with low socio-economic background where providing for extra needs in the family could have been a problem. Even during treatment of the patient the family found the cost of treatment to be very high and unaffordable to them, and a waiver of the cost had to be sought and obtained from the University Dental Hospital. Further, the child having been orphaned with the death of their single parent (mother) left these children unprotected and vulnerable to such abuse from uncles who may have been competing for same needs in an already crowded family. It is possible that factors as poverty, social isolation, and familial disruption could have contributed to the abuse meted by this boy. [1] The fact that the problem was established at this stage, it probably provided the patient and his siblings with the opportunity to get early support and avert serious health problems for them. The referral to the local child protection authority was done to attain this goal and also to have the children monitored consistently for their safety from further child abuse. The child protection agency was indeed considering placing them in the custody of a children's home, though sadly, according to a report by the Kenyan Government, the utilization of these support services had not been very high, [13] for reasons unknown.

The treatment of the patient was carried out in a humane manner, and assistance provided whenever possible to have the full treatment completed. The problem of nutrition was still a difficult one for this large family with a poor background. Nonetheless, the guardian was still briefed on the issue, and informed about the importance of a balanced diet for optimal growth and immunity boosting for such young child, and suggestions for alternative cost-effective foods for the child. It was hoped that the support services of giving the patient and probably his siblings a new home would help the young child to grow and develop normally without fear of abuse.

   Conclusion Top

The management of child abuse can be complicated, and often require a multidisciplinary approach, encompass professionals who will identifying the cause of the abuse or neglect, treatment of the immediate problems and referral of the child to the relevant child protection authority for action. Counseling services for the child and the caregivers should form part of the management regime. In the present case, the objectives were met and the patient got full benefits of this approach.

   References Top

1.Duhaime AC, Alario AJ, Lewander WJ, Schut L, Sutton LN, Seidl TS, et al. Head injury in very young children: Mechanisms, injury types, and ophthalmologic findings in 100 hospitalized patients younger than 2 years of age. Pediatrics 1992;90:179-85.  Back to cited text no. 1
2.Leeb RT, Paulozzi L, Melanson C, Simon T, Arias I. Child Maltreatment Surveillance: Uniform Definitions for Public Health and Recommended Data Elements, Version 1.0. Atlanta, (Georgia): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control; 2008.  Back to cited text no. 2
3.Ambrose JB. Orofacial signs of child abuse and neglect: A dental perspective. Pediatrician 1989;16:188-92.  Back to cited text no. 3
4.Province of British Columbia. Inter-ministry Child Abuse Handbook. An Integrated Approach to Child Abuse and Neglect. Victoria (British Columbia): Ministry of Social Services and Housing; 1988.  Back to cited text no. 4
5.Wissow LS, Roter D. Toward effective discussion of discipline and corporal punishment during primary care visits: Findings from studies of doctor-patient interaction. Pediatrics 1994;94:587-93.  Back to cited text no. 5
6.Diangelis AJ, Andreasen JO, Ebeleseder KA, Kenny DJ, Trope M, Sigurdsson A, et al. International Association of Dental Traumatology guidelines for the management of traumatic dental injuries: 1. Fractures and luxations of permanent teeth. Dent Traumatol 2012;28:2-12.  Back to cited text no. 6
7.Santos BO, Mendonça DS, Sousa DL, José Neto JS, Araújo RB. Root resorption after dental traumas: classification and clinical, radiographic and histologic aspects. Rev Sul-Bras Odontol 2011;8:439-45.  Back to cited text no. 7
8.Trope M. Root resorption due to dental trauma. Endod Topics 2002;1:79-100.  Back to cited text no. 8
9.Putnam FW. Ten-year research update review: Child sexual abuse. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 2003;42:269-78.  Back to cited text no. 9
10.Glasser M, Kolvin I, Campbell D, Glasser A, Leitch I, Farrelly S. Cycle of child sexual abuse: Links between being a victim and becoming a perpetrator. Br J Psychiatry 2001;179:482-94.  Back to cited text no. 10
11.Vadiakas G, Roberts MW, Dilley DC. Child abuse and neglect: Ethical and legal issues for dentistry. J Mass Dent Soc 1991;40:13-5.  Back to cited text no. 11
12.Howes C, Espinosa MP. The consequences of child abuse for the formation of relationships with peers. Child Abuse Negl 1985;9:397-404.  Back to cited text no. 12
13.Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Development. Violence against Children in Kenya-Findings from a 2010 National Survey. United Nations Children's Fund Kenya Country Office, Division of Violence Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, 2012.  Back to cited text no. 13


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4]

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