Forensic Odontology is a relatively new science that utilizes the dentist’s knowledge to serve the judicial system. It is the identification discipline based upon the recognition of unique features present in each person’s dental structures. It comes into use when identification by the use of friction ridge skin is not possible. It relies on the detailed knowledge of the teeth and jaws possessed by a dentist. This skill incorporates an education in dental anatomy, radiographs and their interpretation, pathology, dental materials, developmental anomalies and a thorough familiarity with the many methods of charting and abbreviations in dental treatment progress notes.
Forensic odontologists are highly experienced, specially trained dentists who use their expertise to help identify unknown remains and trace bite marks to a specific individual.
Forensic odontologists or forensic dentists are typically called in to:
- Identify human remains that cannot be identified using fingerprints or other means
- Identify bodies in mass fatalities, such as plane crashes and natural disasters
- Determine the source of bite mark injuries, in cases of assault or suspected abuse
- Estimate the age of skeletal remains
- Testify in cases of dental malpractice
The forensic odontologist may be called in by police officers, the medical examiner or the coroner.
This area of forensic identification plays a major role in man-made or natural disaster, which result in multiple fatalities that are not identifiable through conventional methods, i.e., fingerprints. The same principles apply to individual fatality identification. In situations where friction ridge skin has been destroyed, the recovery of identifiable dental structures is still possible. It becomes most apparent in aircraft crashes and industrial explosions where high G forces and fire produce fragmentation and partial incineration. The teeth and dental restorations are the strongest elements in the human body and survive the destructive influences of fire and exposure to the elements.
Once obtained, even a single dental radiograph can yield multiple points of comparison. When one considers that an individual has the potential for having thirty-two teeth, each tooth having a top and four sides and each of these five surfaces being virgin or restored with one or more of several types of dental materials, the probability of establishing an identification is extremely high. When factors such as an extraction pattern, the presence of anatomic anomalies or pathology is added, the probability of the dental characteristics becoming unique can be established.
The roles of any forensic scientist are to collect, preserve and interpret trace evidence, then to relay the results to the judicial authority in a form of a report. Those functions require sound knowledge in dealing with crime scenes and sufficient acquaintance in law. Forensic Odontology is the forensic science that is concerned with dental evidence.