Dentistry urged to take a stand on gun violence, control

Overall, organized dentistry has stayed silent on gun violence and stricter controls, but this public health crisis can no longer be ignored. The perspective was published April 1 in the Journal of the American Dental Association.

Organized dentistry should create new polices and guidance that promote a public health stance on gun violence, encourage and support gun-free zones in healthcare settings, including dental practices, lobby for laws that ban guns from these settings, and more, authors wrote.

“Using the tools of public health, researchers, oral health care professionals, and their organizations can join in larger efforts to end gun violence,” wrote the authors, led by Dr. Habib Benzian, of the Department of Epidemiology and Health Promotion, College of Dentistry, New York University.

Especially recently, dental practices have not been immune to violence.

On February 29, a patient, Mohammed Abdulkareem, 29, was arrested for opening fire, killing a dentist and injuring two employees, inside a practice in California. Dr. Benjamin Harouni, 28, died from the gunshot wounds at the scene.

In January, Steven Alexander Smith pleaded guilty to capital murder for the March 2022 shooting deaths of Dr. Jack Burroughs Jr., 75, and Dr. Blake Sinclair, 59, who practiced at Affordable Dentures & Implants in Tyler, TX. Smith, a patient who reportedly killed the dentists because he didn’t like his dentures, was sentenced to life in prison.

In 2022, the American Medical Association issued a policy statement on firearm violence, and the National Dental Association released a statement supporting stricter gun violence following the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, TX, in which 19 children and two adults were killed. However, other oral healthcare organizations haven’t said much on the issue. The American Dental Association addresses firearm violence and shooter prevention in reference to emergency preparedness, however, the guidance is more than 20 years old, according to the perspective.

Therefore, dental associations should consider creating new, and updating existing, policies and guidance so they are on par with newer guidance from other agencies like the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and promote a public health stance on gun violence, the authors wrote.

Additionally, oral healthcare associations should encourage and support gun-free zones in healthcare facilities, including dental practices, provide guidance on shooter prevention, and conduct and strengthen research on gun violence.

Other actions that dental associations may take include the following:

  • Advocate for laws that ban guns from dental practices and other healthcare facilities.
  • Declare dental practices as gun-free zones.
  • Champion zero-tolerance policies toward workplace violence in healthcare settings.
  • Screen patients for gun violence risk factors like depression, abuse, and substance abuse and offer referrals for support.

“Regardless of where one stands politically regarding guns, the alarming count of 656 mass shootings in the United States in 2023, serves as a stark reminder that immediate measures are imperative to address the epidemic of gun violence,” Benzian et al wrote.

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