Dentists warned not to use x-rays to attempt to judge age of young asylum seekers - Refugee Council
news  |  November 23, 2015

Dentists warned not to use x-rays to attempt to judge age of young asylum seekers

The British Dental Association (BDA) has issued a clear warning to dentists that X-rays should not be taken or routinely used in order to help judge the age of young asylum seekers, calling the practice ‘inaccurate’ and ‘unethical’.

If a young person who claims to be a child is disbelieved by the authorities they often have to undergo an age assessment, carried out by social services, to attempt to establish their age.

Today the BDA has spoken out against any attempts to send young people for dental x-rays as part of this process. The BDA also advises against using x-rays taken as part of treatment unless the young person is fully aware of and understands the implications of doing so.

The BDA said:
“The BDA is vigorously opposed to the use of dental X-rays to determine whether asylum seekers have reached 18. This is an inaccurate method for assessing age. The BDA also believes that it is inappropriate and unethical to take radiographs of people when there is no health benefit for them. X-rays taken for a clinically-justified reason must not be used for another purpose without the patient’s informed consent, without coercion and in full knowledge of how the radiograph will be used and by whom.”

Whilst the Home Office does not currently commission dental x-rays, some local authority social workers have been keen to use them as part of multi agency assessments of age, perhaps mistakenly believing that this is appropriate and accurate. As the BDA statement makes clear, it is neither.

The Refugee Council knows of young people told they will be treated as adult unless they comply with a dental x-ray, or told that the x-ray results can be definitively interpreted to determine a young person’s age.

We became aware of this practice after young people we were helping were to be sent for x-rays without informed consent being gained. 

Refugee Council Policy Manager Judith Dennis said: “The experts and evidence are utterly clear on this matter: dental x-rays are an inaccurate and inappropriate method of judging a young person’s age. Social workers should instead rely on the expert guidance already available to help them carry out lawful, sensitive and accurate age assessments.”

The Refugee Council is calling for social workers to follow the guidance issued in October 2015 by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services if they feel is it necessary to undertake an age assessment.

Read the guidance here.