The Interesting Field of Forensic Dentistry (Odontology)- Part One

Written by Heather Siler

Forensic dentistry is a fundamental branch of forensic science using dental experience in recognition of human remains and evaluation of the bite. A forensic dentist is a DMD or DDS who have furthered their education and specialize in the field of forensic dentistry.

Part one of this blog will be focused on tools such as clinical exams, radiographs, DNA, and Ameloglyphics in the examination of the deceased. Part two will explore the use of bite mark analysis in the living and post-mortem.

Comparison of fingerprints is the first step in the identification process.  However, fingerprints are often destroyed by decomposition, trauma, or fire. With natural disasters such as tornados, hurricanes, tsunamis, and wildfires, the odontologist joins the recovery team to investigate when fingerprints have been destroyed. Furthermore, caskets can become unearthed due to floods, and bodies may have to be re-identified.

The assessment of the deceased when fingerprints aren’t available begins with charting existing and missing teeth. Special attention is given to implants, unusual restorations, bone patterns, and any anomalies that would help with a positive ID. Radiographs are also taken and compared to premortem dental records if they exist. The age of the individual is determined based on eruption patterns and occlusal wear.

Another way Odontologists authenticate findings is by retrieving DNA from the pulp chamber for cross-matching and with a relatively new process called Ameloglyphics. Ameloglyphics is a promising new approach that involves studying the enamel rods of the tooth which are like fingerprints in that they are unchangeable and very resistant to destruction.

Although forensic dentistry is quite an odd job, it has become more commonplace with the number of television shows dedicated to the identification of victims and crime scene investigations.  This specialty is held in high regard with helping families put loved ones to rest, and in the prosecution of criminals.