Dental records are more than just for checking for cavities and disease.

The application of proven scientific techniques to criminal and civil laws is forensic science. Forensic science has been made popular by the Columbia Broadcasting System, CBS, with its multiple Crime Scene Investigation (CSI and NCSI) drama series. An odontologist is another name for a dentist specializing in forensics.

Long after all other parts of the body have decayed, teeth remain because they are the hardest substance in the human body, even harder than bone.
Long after all other parts of the body have decayed, teeth remain because they are the hardest substance in the human body, even harder than bone.

Forensic odontologists are specially trained dentists who collect and analyze evidence associated with criminal or civil investigations. These dentists assist in investigations of victims of violent crime, large disasters with multiple casualties and/or in identifying bite marks on assault victims that need to be identified via dental records. Forensic dentists are often board certified in their area of specialty based upon their experience and expertise in identifying human remains.

Long after all other parts of the body have decayed, teeth remain because they are the hardest substance in the human body, even harder than bone.

Therefore, cases with a considerable amount of decomposition, in victims of fires or bodies that have been submerged in water for long periods of time, the ability for identification is limited to dental evaluation.

A common form of dental records used when identifying human remains are dental radiographs (X-rays). Dental radiographs include the small bite wings that dentists use to detect cavities and periodontal disease, as well as the larger panoramic images that show all the teeth and jaws. Human remains that possess fillings and/or crowns can be compared to dental radiographs taken antemortem (before death) by the dentists of known missing persons. Comparisons can then be made using these radiographs along with visual dental inspection during autopsies to identify victims. In individuals lacking any apparent fillings or root canals, the presence of deciduous teeth (baby teeth), braces, tumors, cysts, missing teeth, unerupted or impacted permanent teeth can be just as beneficial in determining the identification of the person.

Dental crowding and misalignment, along with missing and/or broken teeth, can be just as unique as fingerprints in identification. For instance, victims of assault who suffer bite wounds associated with an attack may need a forensic odontologist to help identify their attacker. Dental models made from impressions of the alleged assailant can be compared to the bite wounds found on the victim. These comparisons can help confirm or rule out, along with other information related to the crime, a suspect’s involvement.

Dental records are more than just for checking for cavities and disease.

Bradford N. Edgren DDS, MS, FACD, Diplomate, American Board of Orthodontics, 3400 W. 16th St. Bldg 4-V, Greeley.