How many of you watch shows like NCIS or Law and Order? In the particularly gruesome cases, the investigators sometimes have to rely on dental records to identify a victim. But how accurate is this type of identification? And is it actually used to solve real crimes?
Most crime shows have a bad rap for validity when it comes to most medical professions they write in. From the ease TV shows would have you believe that DNA evidence is analyzed to the state of the art labs, professional criminal justice organizations love to poke holes in science with their plot lines and timeframes.
However, one common thread that runs through crime shows is the use of dental records. Data is analyzed by forensic odontologists who are highly experienced and specially trained dentists who use their expertise to help identify unknown remains and trace the bite marks to the victim’s identity. The forensic odontologist may be called in by police officers, the medical examiner or the coroner. And yes, this really does take place in real life.
Below, we’ll give a brief overview of odontology in general and specifically how forensic odontology aids in criminal investigations.
What is odontology?
An odontologist is a doctor who studies the structure and diseases of teeth, especially one who uses their knowledge to identify people and help solve crimes. While an odontologist is also a dentist, they do not practice dentistry in the traditional sense.
As you know, dentists provide medical care for dental issues. Although it’s common to think of dentists looking after people’s teeth, they also treat issues with the gums and mouth. Odontology is the scientific study of the structure and diseases of the teeth themselves. This most commonly used in forensics.
What is a forensic odontologist?
A forensic odontologist must be a qualified dentist and complete additional training and certification requirements to use dental information to identify victims or develop evidence for criminal investigations. A forensic odontologist commonly participates in autopsies by photographing dental evidence, presenting evidence in court, retrieving DNA evidence and analyzing bite marks.
How are dental records used in crime investigations?
Forensic odontology is the application of dental knowledge to provide evidence in the criminal justice system. Forensic dentists are involved in assisting investigative agencies to identify recovered human remains, in addition to the identification of whole or fragmented bodies. Forensic dentists may also be asked to assist in determining age, race, occupation, previous dental history and socioeconomic status of unidentified victims.
Since teeth are commonly used as a weapon—either to attack a victim or as an act of defense—dentistry plays a key role in police investigations. In cases where bite marks are found on the body of a victim or suspected perpetrator (or even in food or other articles), the forensic odontologist uses the same procedure to try to determine or exclude potential sources of the bite marks. Dental tissues are incredibly resistant to fire and often remain intact even after a burial – this is why they are viewed as an important part of evidence.
Next time you watch a crime drama, pay attention for the forensic odontologist. They play a remarkable role in aiding the policing and solving crimes!