Objective: The aim of the present study was to determine the head, face and neck injuries associated with child abuse cases in the Cape Peninsula, Cape Town. South Africa.
Method: A retrospective, record-based analysis (n = 300) of non-accidental injuries at a Children's Hospital over a 5-year period (1992-1996) was carried out.
Results: The mean age of the sample was 4.75 years--54.3% were boys and 45.7% were girls. Most of the crimes were committed in the child's own home (88.7%). Crimes were reported by mothers (48.7%), grandmothers (11.7%) and day hospitals (13%). Ninety percent of the perpetrators were known to the victim. The majority of the perpetrators were male (79%)--20% the perpetrators were the mother's boyfriend; 36% the father or step father, and in 12% the mother was responsible. Thirty-five percent of perpetrators were under the influence of alcohol or drugs when they committed the offence: 64.7% of cases suffered serious injuries, 48.7% had to be hospitalized, four children were critically injured and died. The head, face, neck, and mouth were the sites of physical injury in 67% of the 300 cases reviewed. The face was the most frequently injured (41%) part of the body, with the cheek being the most common site for the injury. The range and diversity of the oro-facial injuries included skull fractures, subdural hematomas, retinal hemorrhages, bruises, burns, and lacerations. Injuries to the mouth included fractured teeth, avulsed teeth, lacerations to the lips, frenum, tongue, and jaw fractures.
Conclusions: The main conclusions of this study were (i) under 2-year-old children were most at risk from abuse (36%); (ii) the number of the reported injuries to the oral cavity was extremely low (11%); and (iii) no dentists participated in the examination of any of the patients. Intra-oral injuries may be overlooked because of the medical examiner's unfamiliarity with the oral cavity. Oral health professionals should be consulted for diagnosis, advice and treatment.