Identification and Characterization of Oral Injury in Suspected Child Abuse Cases: One Health System's Experience

Caroline L S George, Samuel S N Theesfeld, Qi Wang, Mark J Hudson, Nancy S Harper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


OBJECTIVES: Accurately differentiating inflicted from accidental injury in infants and toddlers is critical. Many studies have documented characteristics of inflicted bruises, fractures, and head injuries facilitating the development of clinical tools. There are few studies characterizing inflicted oral injuries, and no clinical tools exist. This study identified characteristics that differentiated inflicted from accidental oral injuries in children younger than 24 months.

METHODS: Retrospective review using International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision billing codes and an internal clinical database tool identified children younger than 24 months between 2004 and 2014. Two groups were created according to the presence or absence of a child abuse diagnosis resulting in an accidental injury and suspected child abuse (SCA) group. Statistical analyses were performed on patient demographics, history of trauma, oral injury characterization, bruises, and fractures.

RESULTS: Billing codes were applied differently between the accidental injury and SCA groups, even when the same injury was described. Patients with SCA were younger and less mobile when compared with those with accidental injuries (P < 0.0001). Tongue injuries (P < 0.0001) and oropharynx bruising (P = 0.0018) were observed more and lacerations were observed less (P < 0.0001) in the SCA group. The SCA group was less likely to have a trauma history than those with accidental injury (P < 0.0001).

CONCLUSIONS: Several differences in patient characteristics, trauma history, injury type, and location were identified between the accidental versus SCA groups. A future clinical tool that incorporates age, history of trauma on presentation, tongue injury, and oropharynx bruising may assist medical providers in placing child physical abuse in the differential diagnosis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPediatric Emergency Care
Early online dateDec 28 2018
StatePublished - Dec 28 2018

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article

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