University of Iceland may apply controversial method of dental age assessment

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University of Iceland may apply controversial method of dental age assessment

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The University of Iceland may soon perform dental radiographs in order to assess the age of young asylum seekers, even though this method is highly disputed. (Photograph: FreeProd33/Shutterstock)
Dental Tribune International

By Dental Tribune International

Thu. 18. October 2018

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REYKJAVIK, Iceland: The University of Iceland (HÍ) and the Directorate of Immigration are currently finalising a work agreement on determining the age of asylum seekers based on dental examinations. The assessment method has been heavily criticised as being imprecise.

HÍ Rector Prof. Jón Atli Benediktsson has confirmed the agreement. Up until now, the university has been conducting these dental age determinations informally, in particular of asylum seeking children who arrived without an accompanying adult in order to determine whether these applicants are over the age of 18.

The student council at HÍ was both surprised and disappointed to learn the news. “My personal opinion is that the university should not have anything to do with this,” said Elísabet Brynjarsdóttir, president of the university student council. “I believe dental age determination is in conflict with the university’s science ethics regulations, and the procedure is very controversial in academic circles due to inexact results and from an ethical point of view,” she added.

In the UK, the Home Office has abandoned the practice altogether upon the recommendation of the British Dental Association (BDA). The association clearly opposes the use of dental radiographs for assessing the age of asylum seekers because it is an inaccurate method. Furthermore, the BDA believes it is inappropriate and unethical to take radiographs of people without them gaining any health benefit therefrom. According to the association, radiographs taken for a purpose other than a clinical reason should not be used without the patients’ consent and they should be fully informed about how and by whom the radiographs are going to be used.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health produced a publication titled Refugee and Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children and Young People in April 2018 to support paediatricians in the assessment of children with a refugee background. The document states that the use of radiological assessment is very imprecise and can only determine an estimated age within a range of two years in either direction. Same as the BDA, the college regards the use of radiographs for this purpose as inappropriate. Therefore, it is important for paediatricians to inform social workers that dental radiographs will currently not contribute to the age assessment process.

Further, the science ethics regulations of the University of Iceland stipulate that participants in any study at the university cannot have been pressured to take part, nor can the results of the study have any negative impacts on the participants’ lives.

While asylum seekers may refuse to undergo a dental examination for this purpose if they wish, they must do so with the understanding that this may affect whether their application is accepted or not, although it is stipulated that their application will not be rejected solely for refusing a dental examination.

Since the European refugee crisis began in 2015, an increased number of people have come to Europe via the Mediterranean Sea or south-east Europe in order to apply for asylum. Most of them have come from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq and have been forced to flee because of persecution, war and violence.

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