PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Dr. Jonathan Lifshitz will be the first to tell you he's not a dentist. He's a scientist.

He works at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Phoenix, yet his recent work is all about what's inside someone's mouth.

[WATCH: Arizona scientist helping dentists identify injuries of domestic abuse]

"We want to highlight the fact that dentists might have a unique point of view to identify signs and symptoms of domestic violence," said Lifshitz.

He teamed up with a dental student and published an article in the Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment and Trauma after the two realized dentists could be some of the first people to identify domestic abuse victims because dentists are required to report abuse to social services.

"How many are we missing? And so, can we capture them with dentists?" said Lifshitz.

"Often they're scared. They're afraid to report," said Samantha Mendez.

Mendez is a forensic nurse and took specific training to be able to identify oral injuries.

She said when patients come to her, they've already been identified as victims. But often victims feel ashamed of the abuse and don't come forward.

"I see a lot of patients that have broken or chipped teeth, bruises inside the mouth, lacerations or cuts. So we see quite a few patients that have injuries inside the mouth," said Mendez.

She said dentists could compare those to their patient's past oral history to see if something seems off.

They also can look for less obvious signs she's seen, too.

"Really small red dots that you might see often on the roof of the mouth, and just that means there has been some sort of pressure build-up, usually from the veins of the neck," said Mendez.

She said that could mean they've been strangled.

The team is hoping to share results from dentists in the Valley in the next few months, hoping to make a difference with a different side of dentistry.

 


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