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Forensic dentistry or Forensic odontology

Forensic dentistryor Forensic odontology is one of the most rapidly developing branch of forensic medicine and forensic science. This is mainly due to the immense importance of dental evidence in the identification of victims of mass disaster, abuse or organized crimes.

A comprehensive understanding of this science is absolutely necessary for the Pedodontists as they are often the first one to deal with children. They can play a valuable role by helping the forensic experts in identifying the affected victim or criminal and thereby contribute significantly in supporting and strengthening families to enable them to care for children more adequately and the society to develop sensitivity and skills for respectful and healthy personal relationship.

Thus, a Pedodontist can play a vital role in protecting the human rights of children.

This article is an attempt to highlight the strategic position of a dentist in Forensic dentistry or Forensic odontology and application of this science in pediatric group of our society.

Definitions

• Forensic medicine: is defined as the branch of medicine wherein the knowledge of medicine is applied to the knowledge of law in order to derive justice.

• Forensic science: is a study of physical information connected with crimes or collection of evidences by scientifically examining the objects or substances that are involved in the crime.

• Forensic dentistry or Forensic odontology: is defined as the branch of the dentistry which, in the intemst of the law. deals with the proper handling and examination of dental evidence and the proper evaluation and presentation of such evidence.

• The expert is a specialist who places his particular professional expertise at the disposal of those requesting his assistance, but leaves the legal conclusions that may be drawn from his results to the coroner judge.

Historical Perspective

Forensic dentistry or Forensic odontology though is a relatively new area of forensic science, has a long history that starts from 2500 B.C. when the first evidence was found in the pyramid at Giza. Egypt. in a skull with a gold wire holding two molar teeth.

In 45-70 A.D, at Rome, the dental findings being used as evidence first time in forensic manner where the king Nero had killed his mother who was identified by two maxillary canine teeth. Nero’s mistress Sabina had Nero kill his first wife and identified her by a discolored tooth.

Similarly in 1477, the body of Charles the Bold was identified on the basis of several missing anterior teeth. In 1850, at Boston the first trial of hanging f Dr. John Webster was ended based on dental evidence.

In 1897, at Paris the very famous burn incidence at Bazaar de Charite where about 125 Parisian were attending the ball was published as the first text of a mass disaster on Forensic dentistry or Forensic odontology. Most of the bodies were identified by a practitioner, Dr. Amedo along with two forensic dentists.

In 1967, a 14 year old girl, Linda Peacock had the bite mark along with other evidence which led to the conviction of a young man. Thus, it can be seen that dental evidences are of paramount importance in this science. With the growing international travel and association risk, the recognition has come to Forensic dentistry or Forensic odontology internationally.

In India, Forensic dentistry or Forensic odontology is dealt as a part of forensic medicine. However there is a strong need for its inclusion as a compulsory subject in the curricula of all the dental schools in India. A dental graduate should be able to apply this knowledge in relation to law and justice administration for the society.

Major Fields of Forensic Odontology

1. Civil – Non criminal

a) Identification of an individual remains, where death is not due to any suspicious circumstances. This covers the majority of the work expert carry out.
b) Mass disasters-identification of victims of hotel fires, aircraft and other transport accidents.
c) Cranio-facial superimposition for identification.

2. Criminal

a) Identification of persons from their dentition or teeth
• Living person
• Dead person

b) Dealing with bite marks identification
• Foodstuff
• On the assailant
• The victim

3. Research

a) Academic training courses – final year dental (BDS) and second year medical (MBBS) students.
b) Post graduate training in Forensic dentistry or Forensic odontology (MD/PhD-Forensic Medicine)

The Role of Pedodontist

Perhaps the most significant role is to create awareness of this specialty in the society. Like any other forensic odontologist, a pediatric dentist can apply his knowledge of dentistry effectively in the following areas –

1. Child abuse/neglect

In the recent time with introduction of Child Protection Act and increased trends towards modem life style, both child abuse and neglect are on the verge of increase in the countries of traditional values like India. Therefore, the dentist who handles children is required by law in virtually all jurisdictions to report cases of child abuse and neglect. A conscious effort should be made to eradicate completely this highly criminal activity in the society. This is what Forensic dentistry or Forensic odontology is all about.

2. Mass disaster

With the complete reform of interstate and international travel, accidents are high and causing most of the disasters worldwide. In the analysis of these incidences where children often become victims, the task of identification is very complicated. The vast numbers of victims who are burnt, decomposed and mutilated can be overwhelming. Therefore, these cases can be systemically examined and identified skillfully Forensic dentistry or Forensic odontology by the dentist as the previous records show that when trained experts are utilized, the identification rates are high and accurate.

3. Accidental and Non-accidental oral trauma:

Another area of Forensic dentistry or Forensic odontology where the dentist can play an important role is in the examination of children who have sustained accidental and non-accidental trauma involving orofacial structures via accident, negligence, malpractice or child abuse. In such cases, a detailed and accurate examination supported with tests, radiographs and photographs will be required by the inquiring agency as often these cases are challenged in the court.

4. Dental fraud

Dental fraud is an another emerging area of litigation. With the introduction of consumer’s protection act, the dentist is required to examine patients carefully and records are to be maintained properly to defend himself if needed. Also records are to determine whether a treatment paid for by a third party has actually been performed or 1101.

5. Age determination

In routine identification, determination of age of the unknown human remains in various stages of decomposition or recognition of the accused person who is suspected in the crime is vital. Since the tooth is the only tissue that can resist the highest temperature and other decomposition changes, age determination with the help of human dentition or their bite marks have proved to be of great importance. A pedodontist may also be a significant asset to the field of Forensic dentistry or Forensic odontology in identification.

6. Bite marks evidence

The bite marks investigation in Forensic dentistry or Forensic odontology is equally important and interesting for the dentist dealing with pediatric patients. Until recent times the bite marks produced by the suspect (usually in assault cases of sexually abused child were looked upon by the other investigators as bruises. However, through constant education, these marks have been recognized for what they are, bites.

7. Lip Print identification

The role of tile skin as a repository and marker of evidence is evaluated in identification of victims and suspects (lip prints, finger prints, finger nail) and it is found that no two individuals have the same pattern of the skin on the lip. Thus, the application of Cheiloscopv is being developed in identification by use of lip-prints.

8. Poisoning

In the study of Forensic dentistry or Forensic odontology, various metallic poisonings may have manifestations in the oral cavity. They are most commonly associated with a metallic taste and a nonspecific ulcerative gingivitis, accompanied by varying amounts of pigmentation. With child labor still a menace in certain parts of the country, an alert Pedodontist may come across cases of chronic metal poisoning and should be able to diagnose it by the clinical signs and symptoms coupled with the history.

9. Dental records

Teeth are unique in individuality, resistant to destruction and their records can be maintained well along with noting of developmental variations and appliances delivered if any to children. Thus, routine findings of the patients preserved in the form of their odontograms are often used successfully for their identification.

Forensic dentistry or Forensic odontology is a very important study that every dentist should be aware of in the present times.

About Dr. Muna

Dr. Muna Taqi is a Dental surgeon from India who has more than 10 years of experience in the field of Oral & Maxillofacial surgery, Endodontics, & Pedodontics. She has worked in multinational medical corporates in Middle East and is also a consultant dental surgeon for many. She has authored many articles for medical journals & websites and is a consultant dental expert for Healthdrip.

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One comment

  1. Is there an option to work as a forsenic odontologist once i complete my pedodontics masters degree??

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