The correct term is Forensic Odontology.
If a criminal offence occurs and there is dental evidence involved, then forensic dentistry comes into play…It is how dental evidence is managed, examined and presented in criminal or civil proceedings, in the pursuit of justice.
In post mortem situations, Forensic Dentistry is especially important when other pertinent evidence is unavailable. This includes body tissue or finger print injury.
If the deceased presents as skeletal remains, decomposed, burnt or dismembered, then forensic dentistry may be used to help solve the case. Tooth structure, namely enamel, is the hardest structure in the body. See the blog “Dental Anatomy 101,” posted on August 5th, 2016. When other means of identification aren’t available, we turn to teeth.
Dental records include:
1) X rays.
2) Dental study models. These can show gaps (missing teeth), teeth alignment, bite/occlusion.
4) A thorough and detailed clinical exam.
The responsibility lies with the dentist to maintain good dental records. This information should be kept for 7-10 years.
Importance of dental x rays
X rays are the most important method of comparison for pre and post mortem situations. They can show:
– Existing fillings, including their shapes and contours.
– Gaps (missing teeth), tooth alignment.
– Dental crowns, implants.
– Buried root tips.
– Root canal treatments.
– Patterns and shape of sinuses.
– Anomalies within the jaw bones.
With the advent of digital x-rays (please see blog “Let’s Get Digital…X-Rays That Is,” posted on June 25th, 2015.) it is possible to superimpose before and after images. We can compare spatial relationships of the roots and other pertinent anatomy.
Use of x rays for age determination
They are of particular importance at a young age. We can predict a child’s age by evaluating:
– The degree of root formation.
– Stage of tooth development…by mineralization patterns.
– Whether primary and/or permanent teeth are present.
Important property of teeth
As mentioned previously, enamel is the hardest substance in the body. Teeth are highly calcified, so they are resistant to fire and strong forces (trauma). Bones though not as strong as enamel, are also helpful in identification. Both teeth and bones are important in situations of mass disaster i.e. plane crash. Not only can facial bones and teeth distinguish one individual from another, but also help to identify race, age and an individual’s sex.
With advanced technology, through the use of computers and imaging, it is possible to reconstruct an individual’s face, say if presented with a skull. This is by a process called facial reconstruction.
Facial reconstruction is also known as Forensic Facial Reconstruction. By combining forensic science, anthropology, osteology, anatomy and artistry, one can work with skeletal remains and recreate an individual’s face.
In this blog we were able to see how valuable the teeth and skull are in identifying one’s remains.
In the next blog, we will discuss bite marks…human bite marks that is…
Wishing you all excellent oral health!
Dr. Robert Axelrad, Brampton’s Gentle Dentist