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Forensic Dentistry

Another interesting dental article from your Vancouver Dentist

What is Forensic Dentistry?

Forensic Dentistry, otherwise known as Forensic Odontology, is a specialized area of forensic medicine and law that involves examining teeth and bite patterns. It is commonly used in the following scenarios:

Identification

One of the main uses of Forensic Dentistry is to help identify a person who is otherwise unidentifiable, due to body decomposition or injury. Much like a fingerprint, a person’s teeth are entirely unique and different from any other person. Because teeth do not decompose like tissue, a body or set of bones can still be identified if there is a record of the person’s teeth and bite on file somewhere.

Time of Death

The condition of teeth can also be key in helping to identify the age and race of a person, and when the person died. In the case of race, a technique called Dental Profiling is used. Dental Profiling helps to determine the most likely information related to ancestral background, sex, and socio-economic status.

DNA Analysis and Identification

In the case of using Forensic Dentistry used to aid in criminal activities, if a person suffers a bite, it’s very likely that the biter has left DNA behind on the skin or wound of the victim. If the perpetrator’s DNA is on file, this match can be the different between conviction and acquittal.

The same holds true not just for victims who have been bitten, but also for other items the teeth may have touched, such as an apple or other type of food, wood, leather etc. Any time the teeth come in contact with something, there is a high likelihood that trace amounts or more of DNA will be left behind. And of course, in the case of an unidentified body, DNA can be extracted from teeth in order to assist in the identification process.

Everyone’s bite pattern is unique, like a fingerprint. In the case of a crime where a victim has been bitten, the bite pattern left behind can be matched to the person who did the biting.

Evidence of Injury

Forensic Dentistry can be used to identify injuries in situations where liability for an accident or injury is concerned. For example, if a person is involved in a bad motor vehicle accident, often times there will be an issue of liability. A person’s dental records can be used to help prove whether or not there was an existing injury to a person’s mouth and/or teeth prior to the accident. Since most people have had at least one set of dental X-rays done, there will also be a record of the health of the jaw bones.

Evidence of Malpractice

Forensic Dentistry can be used to help identify cases of both medical and dental malpractice. Dental X- rays and bite impressions can be helpful both as evidence for or against a dentist or doctor accused of malpractice. The malpractice isn’t just limited to issues related to teeth – it can help indicate the condition of other structures within the mouth, along with jaw and facial bones.

Types of Injury

As noted, bite marks are like fingerprints. They leave a unique imprint that can be casted or photographed and then compared to teeth or other images. Because human bite marks are circular in formation with very specific characteristics, a Forensic Dentist is able to tell what type of injury may be present in a victim (i.e. a bite around a wrist, or an impression in soft tissues).

Workplace Accidents

Forensic Dentistry is being used more and more often these days to help identify workplace accidents.

The History of Forensic Dentistry

While Forensic Dentistry is cutting edge, it has actually been around for a long time. In fact, some of the early techniques date back as far as 46 A.D. when Agrippa (Emperor Nero’s mother) identified the dead mistress of her husband by a single discolored tooth.

Forensic Dentistry was regularly used during the Revolutionary War by Paul Revere. Due to the large number of war deaths, and decomposition of victims, dental records had to be used to identify casualties of war.

During the events that occurred on 9/11, many of the victims recovered from the twin towers had to be identified by their dental records.

Civilization and our Ancestors

If you’ve ever visited a museum of anthropology or archeology, you’ve probably seen many exhibits that include bones and teeth. These artifacts have shed a large amount of information about our ancestors, and other civilizations that have since vanished. Some of the interesting things we have learned from these artifacts include the following:

 Growth rates of dentition that help us to understand the evolution of man

 Wear and tear patterns on teeth that indicate how early man used teeth to nourish the body

 Provides information about early dental treatments including tooth extractions and replacements

 Provides information about how early generations performed such dental work as dental bridges and dental fillings

 Provide information about how the bubonic plague was identified and confirm via extracting bacterial DNA from the tooth pulp of those afflicted

The Role of a Forensic Dentist

As you can see above, a Forensic Dentist is involved in many different aspects of medical and legal issues. Another import role of a Forensic Dentist is to help complete a post-mortem or autopsy. During a post-mortem, a Forensic Dentist will make careful and detailed records and charting of the deceased’s dental structures. This information is helpful in the case where cause of death is undetermined, or comes under consideration in the future.

Summary

Forensic Dentistry is a special area of dentistry that focuses on identifying people and how they died. It is a special area of dentistry that requires additional education and training. The science of Forensic Dentistry has been around for centuries, and is an ever evolving science that is almost as accurate as the science of fingerprinting.

 

if you enjoyed this article, check out our article on the importance of dental health from childhood to our later years!