Stock photo of dentist tools on top of xray of teeth

Oral Health Professionals Positioned to Recognize, Help Trafficking Victims

Oral health professionals can serve as frontline defenders in the global fight against human trafficking, equipped to identify victims through unique dental and facial signs of abuse. Their integration into the broader anti-trafficking efforts, through specialized training and education, can significantly contribute to victim identification and the initiation of recovery processes.

Human trafficking—including forced labor, sexual exploitation, organ trade, and more—is a global crisis affecting millions and leaves lasting scars on its victims. Beyond the immediate trauma, victims face health risks, social stigmatization, and economic hardship, underscoring the need for comprehensive support and intervention efforts.

Global efforts and challenges ahead: While international agreements, national laws, and awareness campaigns form the backbone of the fight against trafficking, challenges persist. The hidden nature of trafficking, the difficulty in victim identification, and the need for effective prosecution of perpetrators call for innovative solutions and increased cooperation.

Understanding trafficking’s complex nature is crucial for all health sectors—and oral health professionals, including dentists, dental hygienists, and assistants, are uniquely positioned to recognize signs of trafficking. Routine dental visits may be one of the few opportunities for victims to interact with professionals who can notice signs of abuse or neglect.

  • Point of contact: Trafficking victims often have limited access to health care, making encounters with health care professionals rare and significant. In this context, visits for cosmetic dentistry can serve as a unique opportunity for identification. These appointments, while focused on aesthetic improvements, provide a crucial window for oral health professionals to observe and recognize signs of trafficking, offering a pathway to intervene and assist those in need. 
  • Signs and symptoms: Oral and facial signs of abuse, such as trauma or untreated disease, are key indicators that trained professionals can spot. 

Bridging the gap: Despite their potential role in combating trafficking, oral health professionals face obstacles, including lack of awareness and curriculum constraints. Addressing these challenges requires:

  • Training and education: Specialized training is essential for oral health professionals to not only recognize and document signs of trafficking but also to report them in a manner that ensures victim safety and facilitates timely interventions. Recognizing a Human Trafficking Victim or a Perpetrator, a free continuing education course available on, is a prime example of how such training can help professionals in the dental field to make a significant difference in the lives of trafficking victims.
  • Comprehensive curriculum development: Incorporating training on human trafficking into dental education, with practical modules and scenarios to prepare students for real-world identification and intervention. 
  • Enhanced research investment: Encouraging research into the intersection of oral health and human trafficking can shed light on the scope of the issue and effective response strategies.

Developing human trafficking awareness and response capacity within the dental profession presents challenges, yet it is a crucial move to maximize the health care sector’s opportunities to combat this issue. With improved education, research, and practical training, oral health professionals can play a significant role in identifying victims and facilitating their pathway to recovery. This comprehensive approach not only enhances the profession’s contribution to public health but also highlights the importance of multidisciplinary collaboration in tackling complex social issues like human trafficking.


Alishah Nadeem holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Louisiana State University and is interested in pursuing a career in dentistry, focusing on bridging the gaps in oral health both nationally and globally through research and practice. 

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