5 Tools of Forensic Dentistry

Using Forensic Odontology for Justice

Forensic dentistry, also known as odontology, is the study of teeth and the jaw as evidence in the legal system. It’s pattern recognition and comparison to determine one’s age, sex, and even their ethnicity by simply using dental tissues. Using forensic dentistry can be a powerful tool in providing significant information and analysis.

There are a range of trends used in forensic odontology such as dental records, dental imaging, bite mark analysis, and more. Discover how five evolving methods are used to identify, examine, and evaluate individuals for criminal investigations. 

1. Dental Record & Identification

An essential component of forensic dentistry is record maintenance and identification. This can come in various forms including dental notes, charts, photographs, and study models. These documents are dependent on the availability and accuracy of antemortem dental records, or records taken prior to passing. 

During a regular check-up, dentists like Dr. Charles Bauer collect impressions, charts, and X-rays of each patient to aid them in coming visits. They can then be compared to postmortem dental findings for proper identification. Postmortem examinations include a collection of:

  • Dental arch shape, alignment, and occlusion
  • Number and position of teeth–present and missing
  • Size, shape, position, and material–any restorations 
  • Presence and position–decayed surfaces
  • Design and material–dentures or other appliances
  • Unique tooth characteristics–damage or fractures

These tools are especially important when the deceased person is skeletonized, decomposed, burned, or dismembered. The condition of a person’s teeth reconfigures over the years–making decayed, missing, and filled teeth measurable and comparable.

2. Dental Imaging 

Used for personal identification, dental imaging or radiographs are performed to compare to antemortem images or when previous records aren’t available. It provides odontologists with an accurate analysis of teeth and jaw structures along with undetectable dental evidence.

Many dentists like Dr. Edward Hobbs use CT scans and digital X-rays to generate a 3D image of your teeth, gums, and jaw bone for treatment planning. By doing so, patients are able to see their current and anticipated new smile on a computer screen.

Dental imaging can come in forms of facial photographs, video recordings, or photographs of an individual’s smile. They’re used to reveal specific characteristics of individuals. There’s a large scope of variables found through radiographs including:

  • Shape of teeth and roots
  • Damaged or missing teeth
  • Lesions such as abrasion, fractures, bone strain
  • Periodontal disease
  • Endodontic treatment

3. Bite Mark Analysis 

Often used in violent incidents, bite mark analysis is observed where the offender may have bitten the victim or vice versa. Bite marks exhibit an individual’s unique characteristics such as fractures, rotations, dental arches, or number of teeth. The size of the bitemark or dental arch can reveal the age of the individual.

To analyze a bite mark, high-quality impressions of the upper and lower arches are taken and compared to the displayed mark. Impressions are also taken when dentists like Dr. Irfan Ahmad design crowns and bridges to restore patients’ smiles. 

The most common technique used is a fabrication of overlays. An odontologist would then analyze and measure the size, shape, and position of the independent teeth.

4. Examination of Lip Prints 

Cheiloscopy is the identification of individuals based on lip traces or prints. This tool is often used in forensic dentistry because each lip print is unique and remains unchanging. If obtained within 24 hours of the crime, it can provide sufficient evidence during an investigation. 

Each lip trace pattern is dependent on whether the mouth is opened or closed. Lips have their own grooves such as straight lines, curved, angled, and sine-shaped. Compared to fingerprints, cheiloscopy can be a useful tool in defining one’s gender.

5. Study of Palatal Rugae (Rugoscopy)

The study of patal rugae, or rugoscopy, is an unconventional technique used in cases of tooth loss caused by trauma. The human palatal rugae is used for identification because of its distinctiveness. This piece is in the oral cavity and is guarded by the connective tissue covering the bone, making it unbothered from any aggressions.

To apply this forensic tool, there are many materials and methods that can be used. Some approaches include photos and impressions of the maxillary arch, computer software programs, and overlay print. However, identifying an individual through this tool is difficult if there has been any orthodontic movement, periodontal surgery, or eruption of an impacted tooth.

There are a multitude of tools used for forensic dentistry each day. From gathering dental records to analyzing bite marks, odontologists are making an impact in collecting data and information. With increasing advancements, the tools of forensic dentistry will be more concrete than ever before.