Forensic dentistry or forensic odontology is the proper handling, examination and evaluation of dental evidence, which will be then presented in the interest of justice. The evidence that may be derived from teeth, is the age (in children) and identification of the person to whom the teeth belong. This is done using dental records including radiographs, ante-mortem (prior to death) and post-mortem photographs and DNA. Forensic odontology is derived from Latin, meaning forum or where legal matters are discussed.
The other type of evidence is that of bite marks, left on either the victim (by the attacker), the perpetrator (from the victim of an attack), or on an object found at the crime scene. Bite marks are often found on children who are abused.
Forensic dentists are responsible for six main areas of practice:
This information, combined with x-rays, pre & post death photos, & DNA can be use as identification.
Bite marks applies by either attackers or victims are valuable to investigations and can be as unique as fingerprints. As little as a single x-ray can identify someone, now take that and consider the average person has up to 32 teeth. It’s easy to see why forensic dentists are highly sought after.
Teeth grow an average of 4 micrometers per day making it possible to make accurate age estimations. It is also possible to determine ethnicity from some teeth. For example, some Asians and Native Americans have incisors with scooped out backs. Patterns of tooth wear also change and vary greatly between making it possible to make deductions about their habits & lifestyle.
*Fun fact: The position of forensic dentistry was featured in the 2009 thriller “Horsemen” staring Dennis Quaid.*
Famous Examples of Forensic Dentistry in use:
Forensic Dentistry dates back to 49 BC. According to the story, back in the time of Emperor Nero prior to his rise to power, his mother (Agrippina) had ordered her soldiers to force Lollia Paulina to commit suicide. This was done with strict instructions to bring her head back as proof the task had been completed. She was unable to identify by facial features alone however was able to positively identify the head as that of her rival because of the specifically discolored front teeth Lollia Paulina was known for.
During the Revolutionary Way (1775-1783), Paul Revere was the first forensic dentist on US soil by helping to identify war casualties. He was specifically able to identify the remains of Dr. Joseph Warren the man who sent him on his famous “ride”. He was able to make a positive identification based on a partial he had made for the doctor made out of silver wire & pieces of hippo tusk.
This section has information borowed from various internet sources, we do not claim ownership of any of this written material.
Robert Lustbader DDS
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