South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault & Family Violence

Sexual assault & oral health: A guide to positive dental experiences

For Female Survivors, Male Survivors

Tags: Caring for Yourself, Medical Information

Author: South Eastern CASA

Why is your oral health important?

  • Reflects and influences general health & well being
  • Reduce chances of pain & discomfort associated with oral health problems
  • Oral health problems can lead to:
    • difficulties with eating & speaking &
    • embarrassment over teeth condition
  • To avoid onset of diseases: cavities, tooth decay & gum disease.
  • Poor oral health has been linked to :
    • cardiovascular disease
    • diabetes
    • preterm & low birth weight babies
    • stroke

How can sexual assault effect victim/survivors oral health?

  • The mouth, neck & head area can be a sensitive area
  • Fear of visiting a dentist because:
    • feel powerless & vulnerable
    • have limited control
    • can be unpredictable
    • alone with a person (usually male) who has considerable authority
  • Difficulty in scheduling and/or attending appointments

Some experiences can be…

Although some victim/survivors have no difficulties with attending the dentist, others report that they don't attend because they find it traumatic:

“intrusive, having things in the mouth”

“I don't trust being so close to somebody I don't know”

“Having someone leaning over me & not being able to talk or be in control”

“I choose not to go to the dentist... forcing my mouth open, and having instruments in my mouth, brings up gagging...memory of gagging when I was orally assaulted.”

Common reactions

  • Intense levels of distress and/or anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Uncontrollable crying
  • Inability to keep feet/body still
  • Flashbacks
  • Dissociation
  • Highly sensitive to pain
  • Resist opening mouth and/or turning head away
  • Gagging/choking
  • Afraid of being alone with dentist in treatment room where door is closed
  • Feeling trapped in the dental chair

What can you do?

  • Take your favourite music with you (CD, IPOD)
  • Use relaxation techniques (deep breathing, muscle relaxation, meditation)
  • Visualise a safe place.
  • Initial visit for meeting/check up
  • Negotiate signals to stop treatment if necessary
  • Ask for breaks
  • Negotiate the reclining angle of the dental chair 

What can your dentist do to help you?

Become aware of the potential impacts of sexual assault on oral health & dental experiences

Access ‘Beyond Sexual Assault: A Dental Professionals Series’. The information series provides useful suggestions for supporting victim/survivors.

References

1. AHMAC (2001) Oral Health of Australians: National Planning for Oral Health Improvement Final Report. Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council; Steering Committee for National Planning for Oral Health, South Australia Department of Human Services.

 

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