Forensic odontology is a specialized branch of dentistry that focuses on the use of teeth and oral structures for identification in a legal context. It is a subspecialty of dentistry that has been used to identify deceased persons in incidents such as terrorist attacks, plane, train and road accidents, fires, mass killings and natural disasters. Recent advances in the field have included the utilization of computed tomography (CT) images for the identification and examination of pathology, and the superposition of 3D dental surfaces before and after death for identification. A forensic dentist can extract DNA from the pulp chamber to collate it and identify the victim.
Researchers can examine dental records to compare them to a cadaver or to match the mark of a bite with that of an attacker. Because teeth are so hard and because there is no database of teeth similar to that of fingerprints and DNA, forensic dentists are often used to identify dead people, particularly fire victims. If the corpse is intact, the dentist will likely work in a morgue and will surgically expose the jaws for examination. Even if there are only a few teeth available, a forensic dentist can still make a positive identification using dental records.
Although the best comparisons come from x-rays, annotations in a person's dental chart can tell the dentist if the teeth are the same when no X-rays are available. Dental evidence is useful in establishing human identity by comparing the dental characteristics of a deceased person with dental records before death. At this time, forensic dentistry remains one of the most reliable, cost-effective and fastest means of corroborating human identity. The disciplines of the forensic dentistry profession have expanded beyond dental identifications to include the recognition and reporting of child and elder abuse, age assessment, and the analysis of bite marks.
Klara Janjić, a doctoral student at Vienna Center for Forensic Medicine, collaborated on tasks at this institution which is the oldest institution of forensic medicine in the world. After her forensic dental exam, it became clear that Ezra could still be alive and would most likely have fled to a place where he would not be easily identified. Fabian Kanz is an anthropologist and associate professor at the Center for Forensic Medicine of the Medical University of Vienna (Austria), where he heads the Forensic Anthropology Unit. He has been instrumental in furthering our understanding of how forensic odontology can be used to determine cause of death.
Forensic odontology is an invaluable tool for law enforcement agencies around the world. It provides an accurate means for identifying victims in cases where other methods may not be available or reliable. By combining traditional methods with modern technology, forensic dentists are able to provide invaluable assistance in criminal investigations.