Children often do not look forward to seeing a dentist, even if it is in their best interest. When a minor goes to a dental office for either a routine checkup or a more complicated procedure, the dentist must be aware of the laws that apply, including consent laws. In the event that any form of sexual or physical abuse is discovered by a dentist in regard to the child, he may be legally obligated to report it, depending on what state he resides in.
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When a dentist has a minor as a patient and that minor ends up needing restorative work done or treatment outside of a typical cleaning, the dentist must obtain permission from the child's parent or guardian before the treatment can legally begin. Such permission should always be properly documented in the minor's patient chart. Parents who can not physically bring their child in may send a permission note with the child allowing the dentist to do all necessary work. If the parent has not sent a permission note,and is not with the child at the actual dental office, the dentist must receive permission over the phone from the child's parent or legal guardian before doing any restorative work. In the event the child's parents are divorced, consent must be obtained from whichever parent has legal custody of the child.
Some states require a dentist file a report if a child he is treating shows clear signs of being abused. In Alabama, for example, a dentist must report any known child abuse or any suspicions of child abuse to the Department of Human Resources. Under Alabama law, child abuse is defined as any non-accidental physical, mental or sexual harm including exploitation. In Missouri, dentists are also required to report any known or suspected child abuse to the Missouri Division of Family Services. Penalties vary from state to state in regard to dentists who do not report known or suspected abuse. Penalties include fines as well as incarceration.
Minors Left Alone
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In some circumstances, a minor may legally be left alone in a dental office while being operated on. For example, if the minor is over the age of 10, she may be left alone during her dental visit. For routine dental procedures, such as fillings, fluoride treatment or cleaning, the minor may be left alone only if the parent or guardian has given permission and will be accessible by phone. Parents and legal guardians may also leave their child alone in a dental office or not be present at all if they contact the dentist ahead of time to arrange for the child to be there unaccompanied by the parent.