DENTISTS in Scotland are to be trained to spot patients who are victims of domestic violence, as part of a new initiative.
The practitioners will be asked to encourage victims to report any incidents of abuse to police or support services.
The scheme has been launched by Medics Against Violence (Mav) as part of efforts to act on abuse early before it develops into more serious attacks.
Dentists yesterday said that with the right training they were well-placed to help in the fight against domestic abuse.
Launching the initiative at the North West Kilmarnock Area Centre, Mav founder Dr Christine Goodall said: "Victims of domestic abuse often suffer injuries to their teeth, face and neck, so dentists are often the first healthcare professionals they will see. We felt it was time to take advantage of this 'golden moment' to intervene and help.
"On average it takes around 35 incidents of abuse before a victim feels able to tell the police or a support service.
"This is about helping, encouraging and supporting victims to be able to make that call whenever they are ready."
NHS Ayrshire and Arran is the first health board to take up the initiative, and others are likely to follow.
More than 90 dentists and dental care professionals are expected to take part in the first training session, where they will watch a short film and hear from Mav and staff from Scotland's Violence Reduction Unit.
May Hendry, dental practice adviser at NHS Ayrshire and Arran, said: "Dentists are in an ideal position to detect injuries caused by domestic abuse as they not only work in close proximity to the patient but they often build up a rapport with the patient over many years."
Health secretary Nicola Sturgeon welcomed the initiative, adding: "It is a fact that the teeth, face and head are the most commonly injured sites in incidents of domestic abuse. In a recent survey 70 per cent of patients who sought help from their dentist wished they had been asked about their injuries. Dentists are often the first point of contact that a victim of abuse sees when seeking treatment after a violent attack.That is why this initiative and training for dentists is vital.
"It will ensure they have the skills and ability to deal with disclosure professionally and confidently."
Andrew Lamb, British Dental Association director for Scotland, commented: "Dentists are well-placed to spot facial injuries resulting from incidents of domestic violence.
"It will be important that dentists are properly supported as they approach those they suspect of being the subject of domestic violence."
The launch comes ahead of White Ribbon Scotland's campaign 16 Days of Action, which starts tomorrow, and the domestic abuse phase of the Violence Reduction Unit's anti-violence campaign, which runs from December until January.
The Mav intervention is based on an American programme called AVDR - Ask, Validate, Document, Refer - which has been adapted for use in Scotland.
It is an anti-violence charity which was set up by three Scottish surgeons, Dr Goodall, Mark Devlin and David Koppel, after they decided it was time healthcare joined the campaign to reduce violence.