In this post from Staten Island Dental Care, we’ll veer a bit off the beaten path and look at an intriguing dental specialty; forensic dentistry.
The formal term for dentistry in criminal cases and post mortem identification is forensic odontology. These experts are rarely recognized, but play an essential role in crime and disaster investigations.
Dental X-rays, dentures, and bite marks are all used to provide clues about a victim’s identity and/or the manner of death. A person’s teeth are as unique as fingerprints and can often survive forces such as fire, explosions, submersion in water, and natural decay without being destroyed.
Identifying One Victim
Identifying a victim through dental records is aided immensely when authorities have narrowed down a group of suspected victims to just a few people (or, ideally, just one) and can consult the dentists who had treated them. When the identity is totally unknown, a forensic dentist scours other databases such as those kept by the armed forces and prisons.3
“Dental identifications are so much quicker and so much less expensive than DNA.” -Dr. Mark Bernstein, dentist and forensic dental consultant
Identifying Hundreds of Victims
While identifying one victim of a homicide or accident can be somewhat simple, natural disasters, plane crashes, and other large-scale tragedies are exponentially more involved.
According to Dr. Jeffrey Burkes, chief forensic dental consultant for the 9/11 attacks, over 140 dentists labored to identify the fragments of remains that were recovered from the scene of the terrorist attacks. The identification effort was an extremely painstaking and complicated process. First, the dentists were divided into four teams. The Go Team gathered evidence from the scene, the Antemortem Team analyzed existing dental records of presumed victims, the Postmortem Team X-rayed the recovered dental evidence, and the Comparison Team compared the X-rays of the remains of unknown individuals to the records of missing people thought to have been at the scene.
“Dentistry fulfills one of its most important social, moral, and professional obligations by applying its unique knowledge and expertise to the task of identifying countless persons who are tragic victims of fires, catastrophes, disasters, and homicides.”
Pretty fascinating stuff, isn’t it? At Staten Island Dental Care, we’re much more mundane: we stick to the essentials of your dental health, and general and restorative dentistry. Schedule your next exam with us today.
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