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Forensic Odontology: A Closer Look

Forensic odontology or forensic dentistry is a branch of forensic science that deals with the handling, examination, and presentation of dental evidence in court. Information from the study of teeth usually involves identifying the person, assessing the age of the victim and signs of violence. Odontology is done with the help of dental records, including photographs, radiographs, and ante mortem and post mortem reports.

Forensic Dentists

The duties of a forensic dentist include estimating the age of an individual, and studying any bite marks on victims. The most frequently performed examination is the comparative identification, when a deceased person is identified based on their dental records. Forensic dentists must have good communication skills, as they may be required to present their findings in court. They will need to create a profile of unidentified victims and provide information on the race, age, and gender based on their dental structure. They also evaluate data in civil cases involving dental malpractice, worker’s compensation claims, and so on. Forensic dentists maintain a database of unidentified victims. For those interested in learning more about forensic odontology, there is a plethora of information available online. When searching for further information, please keep in mind that each university or college program may vary slightly.

Age Estimation

The forensic dentist works with the National Crime Information Center. Forensic dentists may also be called to work in areas that have been affected by a natural disaster, such as a flood, that have a high number of unidentified victims. The age of an individual can be found out by studying the teeth. The wear and tear, patterns of tooth eruption, and deposits of minerals on root surface are indicators of an individual’s age. In children, the development of teeth is compared to charts and an approximate age with a difference of plus or minus one and half years can be determined. In teenagers, the development of teeth is greater, so the study can be more accurate. In young adults, the age accuracy variation is about four years. In the case of middle aged or older individuals, identification is tougher due to excessive wear, diseases, extractions, and restorations. An accuracy of plus or minus ten years is the norm in adult cases.

Bite Mark Analysis

Bite mark analysis is an important aspect in forensic dentistry. In some violent crimes, including rape and murder cases, criminals leave bite marks on the victims. The forensic dentist collects and compares these bite marks in an effort to identify the criminal. Every detail of the bite mark viz. the color, size, appearance, location, and number of times the victim was bitten is recorded. Photos of the bite marks and samples are taken. Based on these impressions, a dental mold is made and a profile of the criminal is drawn. If a suspect has been arrested, their dental records are taken and compared to the bite marks for verification. Sometimes, DNA may be found in the bite mark tying a particular person to the crime.