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Forensics in Dentistry

Overview

There's a valuable expertise called dental forensics. Dentists trained in forensics are skilled at identifying victims of a homicide or a disaster, such as a plane crash, a war or explosion. They helped identify the victims of the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. Today, they can establish positive identifications, sometimes in a matter of minutes with sophisticated computer identification programs.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is dentistry's involvement in forensic medicine?

Forensic medicine is a science that deals with the relation and application of medical facts to legal problems. Dentists who work in forensics now can establish a positive identification of human remains -- sometimes in a matter of minutes, even without dental records.

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How is technology changing the way dentists can help identify the remains of crime victims and missing persons?

Where no dental X-rays are available, digital photographs taken of the teeth can be used to compare a smiling photograph taken during the victim's life.

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What is the main goal?

Quick identification is the main goal, so the FBI is conducting research to develop a nationwide "high speed" dental identification system that can compare thousands of dental records in minutes and automatically rank possible matches. For those wondering and worrying about the fate of a missing relative, a shorter wait means closure, so grieving and recovery can begin.

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What can be learned from studying a set of teeth?

The arrangement of each person's teeth is virtually unique, and almost all of us have had some kind of dental treatment. Where dental records are available, it is possible to study a set of teeth and compare the teeth with dental records. This comparison allows dentists to establish the identity of a body, just like fingerprints or DNA evidence.

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Where are dentists who work in forensics needed?

Dentists who work in forensics often are called to the most brutal death scenes like World Trade Center, the federal building bombing in Oklahoma City, and the Jeffrey Dahmer murders. Those can be difficult cases, especially when dental records are not available.

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How great is the need for this identification help?

According to the FBI, on average there are 100,000 active missing persons cases in the United States at any given time. Nearly a third of those missing meet a tragic end.

As long as this trend continues, dentists who work in forensics will keep playing a critical role in helping identify victims.

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What is on the horizon?

In the near future, 3D computer technology will make it possible to reconstruct a reasonable likeness of a person's face during life, using dental and physical information from skeletal remains.

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Additional Resources

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