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Media invite to attend two key talks on link between sexual assault and bad teeth, and on latest vaping findings at Sydney dental conference

The Australian Dental Association 4 mins read
Prof. Purnima Kumar will be telling the World Dental Congress in Sydney about the latest vaping findings.


At ICC Sydney until Wednesday 27th September

Common hidden cause of dental anxiety & avoidance: sexual assault and trauma  

Also, why vaping is the new smoking & the new sitting down


THE LINK BETWEEN SEXUAL ASSAULT AND POOR ORAL HEALTH: Over two decades in private practice, Melbourne dentist Dr Sharonne Zaks AO noticed a disturbing pattern with some female patients – and after some gentle inquiries she uncovered an awful truth.  

Many were survivors of sexual assault, with the experience of being in the dental chair recreating the conditions that mimicked the sexual abuse, she realised. Survivors of family or domestic violence report similar, Dr Zaks will tell dentists from around the world at the World Dental Congress in Sydney currently underway until Wednesday September 27.

“Dental appointments can trigger memories of sexual assault and trauma to resurface due to the many parallels they share, which explains survivors’ widespread anxiety and avoidance. This results in very poor oral health,” said Dr Zaks.

Lying prone in the lap of an authority figure, unable to move or speak, holding their mouth open as it is filled up with fingers and sharp instruments, being asked to trust again after being betrayed before – all examples of the similarities. The loss of control and feeling of powerlessness trigger intense distress, making sexual assault survivors run a mile rather than see a dentist to get an oral problem fixed. Consequently many have severe advanced disease, and feel intense shame and embarrassment.

“Around one third of our female patients and one sixth of our male patients have survived sexual assault and most stay undisclosed, so we need to know what to look out for. For example, we can see damage from coping strategies like addictions in the mouth.”

Meanwhile 75% of injuries from family violence involve the head, neck, face, and mouth. “As dentists, we’re often the first and only point of contact, so we’re frontline responders in a unique position to recognise and support survivors as we link them to the services they need, which can save their lives.”

In her talk Dr Zaks will guide dentists through the issues and the practical steps to address them, including how to recognise survivors, rebuild trust and safety, respond to disclosures, information sharing and reporting obligations, referral scenarios, and clinical tips for tailoring care. 

She has adapted the MARAM guidelines developed in response to the Royal Commission into Family Violence, to private practice for the first time, and was the first person to integrate the trauma-informed approach into the Australian dental setting. Her lecture will empower clinicians to feel more confident to sensitively handle the complexities involved in this confronting area.

Hear Dr Zaks talk on Tuesday 26th in 2 talks: 10.45am-11.30am,

and 11.45am-12.30pm.

VAPING: A UNIVERSAL PANACEA FOR CEASING TOBACCO - OR A DISASTER? Prof. Purnima Kumar, a world authority on vaping and its effects on the mouth, looks at how smoking, vaping and waterpipes increase the risk for oral disease, and investigates if waterpipes are a safer option than cigarettes. In her research Prof. Kumar has seen damage to the mouths of vapers using vapes for six months which equates to five years’ worth of damage in a smoker’s mouth.

She said: "News is coming from France about plans to ban disposable vaping devices in an effort to limit access to under 18 year-olds. The world is waking up to the dangers of vaping. My own lab has just discovered that vaping can thin the protective membranes that line our mouth and gums. As dentists, it is time to take the lead in educating patients, parents and care-givers, and what better way than using evidence to combat hearsay."

Hear Prof. Kumar talk on this topic Tuesday 26th Sept 11.45am – 12.30pm on the risk of oral diseases from smoking and vaping.

THE MOUTH IS NOT VEGAS - WHAT HAPPENS HERE DOES NOT STAY HERE: In a third talk Prof. Kumar explores the strength of evidence between oral and systemic health, the impact of the traveling oral microbiome on several body systems and investigates the impact of periodontal (gum) therapy on improving systemic diseases. Her research has found that the bacteria in the mouths of pregnant woman can travel via the bloodstream to the placenta, potentially triggering adverse pregnancy outcomes including pre-eclampsia and pre-term babies.

Prof. Kumar said: "If you saw blood on your finger, would you just wipe it off and do nothing? Why is it OK for your gums to bleed then? Bleeding gums can have far-reaching impacts on overall health, and can be a great indicator of diseases in deep organs and joints. Let us stop normalizing bleeding from gums."

Hear Prof. Kumar talk on Wednesday 27th  Sept, 11.45 – 12.30pm


Around 7,000 dentists and oral health clinicians are in Sydney for the 4-day event from Sunday 24th to Wednesday 27th September for a packed Scientific Programme of over 220 talks, demonstrations and symposia across a vast range of oral health topics. There is also a 4-day exhibition of the latest in dental technologies.

2023 marks the 109th year of this international conference inaugurated by the Fédération Dentaire Internationale (FDI), jointly hosted this year by the Australian Dental Association and FDI.

The event at the world-class International Convention Centre in the heart of Sydney, is the first ‘in person’ World Dental Congress in four years and is expected to net the NSW economy $31m.

Media are invited to attend both talks from the Scientific Programme and the Exhibition - access the Congress Scientific Programme here.   

To interview either clinician, call ADA Media Advisor Jenny Barlass 0484 869 086 or email:



Contact details:

For interview requests or to attend the Congress, call ADA Media Advisor Jenny Barlass 0484 869 086.


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