Forensic dentistry is not a modern addition to science. The earliest recorded example of this practice dates back to 49 BC.
There are two sides to Forensic Dentistry, which is:
- When bite marks are present, to establish who or what is responsible for the biting
- To identify a body by its teeth
Forensic Dentistry (aka Forensic Odontology) has been invaluable in identifying the dead, especially those that did not die of natural causes. When it comes to murder, in many cases, this science was the key to solving the crime.
Dental forensics is one aspect of medical science that internet medical services will not be replacing any time soon.
How Does Forensic Dentistry Work
No two people’s teeth erupt in the same way, making every person’s set uniquely different. They grow at approximately 4 micrometers per day, making it possible to estimate a person’s age in this way. They also make it possible to distinguish ethnicity.
How one’s teeth wear over time also varies. Forensic Odontology is used to identify the dead this way and gain insight into their habits and lifestyles.
Even though each type of tooth has a name, there are multiples of some. For this reason, each one needs an individual designation.
The three most popular methods used to label teeth are:
- The Palmer method
- Universal System
- World Dental Federation notation (FDI – Fédération Dentaire Internationale)
The Universal System is the most commonly used method by Dentists in the USA. Each tooth is assigned a number between 1 and 32. Baby teeth are labeled with 1d through 20d or A through K. Certain ones also have multiple layers, and each carries a name.
All dentists keep dental records, whether you’re seeking pain relief or going for a checkup, they use the Universal System to make notations on each tooth. This is done with regard to variations, dental work, and the health of your teeth. The use of X-rays reveal hidden dental fixtures and is also added to the records.
How Are Dental Records Used To Identify Teeth
Forensic Dentists identify the dead by their teeth through the use of dental records. The hardest substance in the human body is tooth enamel and will remain intact long after everything else has decayed.
Your teeth can withstand heat up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Intense heat causes them to shrink and become fragile. These teeth can be preserved with lacquer and used for identification purposes. Although heat distorts dental work, it can still aid in identification.
Dental Records are vital in assisting forensic dentists in identifying the deceased and working in a morgue; it is often required to surgically expose the jaws of an intact corpse to examine its teeth.
Although X-rays provide the best comparison, identification can still be made even if only a few teeth are available. Dentists can tell if they are the same by cross-referencing them with notations made on the tooth chart.
Certain aspects of the deceased’s lifestyle, such as distinctive wear patterns and chipped teeth, can help identify the body. DNA samples can also be extracted from the tooth’s center. Although pulp can be damaged by intense heat and other conditions, it can also withstand decay for several hundred years.
Identification through dental forensics is only used as a last resort.
Dental Forensics – Bite Mark Analysis
Bite-mark analysis is hugely complex and typically used in conjunction with other physical evidence. It involves many different factors to determine the identification of the perpetrator.
The type of bite mark that’s left depends on several different aspects, including:
- Jaw and tongue movement
- Location of the bite
- Victims movement
Bite marks change significantly over time. Thus a forensic dentist must be called immediately. The first step taken is to identify that the bite came from a human. Next, it must be swabbed for possible traces of DNA left by the biter’s saliva. It’s also essential to determine if it was self-inflicted.
Measurements of the individual aspects of the bite mark are then taken and recorded. Bruising typically appears four hours after the bite and will disappear after 36 hours.
On deceased victims, the dentist generally has to wait until the lividity period expires for the details to become visible. These bite marks are cut out in the morgue and preserved in Formalin. Silicone casts are then made.
Due to its changing nature, many explicit photographs, using rulers and other scales, have to be taken to depict the bite’s size, depth, and orientation. Several terms, such as abrasion, incision, and laceration, are used to describe the type of mark.
Depending on the pressure the biter applied, the teeth can also leave several different impressions. These reveal a lot about the biters’ teeth.
Upon identifying a suspect, investigators need to get a warrant to get a mold and photos of that person’s teeth. This can then be used for comparison to find similarities with the bite mark.
The Verdict Is Out
Without Forensic Dentistry, many violent criminals would be free to walk the streets, and many victims would remain unidentified. It’s a necessary vocation that provides answers.