Forensic odontology is a specialized branch of dentistry that focuses on the application of dental knowledge to legal proceedings. It is used to identify victims or suspects in cases of death, mass disasters, and other criminal activities. During such cases, forensic dentists attend the autopsy and take photographs, cranial measurements, dental impressions, and x-rays of the remains. These samples are then compared with those of known missing persons to establish identification.
X-rays can also be used to determine the age of a minor victim and even help assess gender and ethnicity. Comparable x-rays are an essential factor in confirming identification in a mass disaster. Forensic dentists can make their determinations using x-rays, photographs before and after death, and DNA analysis. Bite marks are another type of evidence that can be analyzed.
These can be left on the victim (by the aggressor), on the aggressor (of the victim of an attack) or on an object found at the scene of the crime. However, this last application of forensic dentistry has proven to be very controversial, since there are no studies or scientific evidence to show that bite marks can provide sufficient detail for positive identification. In 1996, BOLD was created at the University of British Columbia to develop new technologies and techniques in forensic dentistry. With proper training, dental teams can play an integral role in forensic odontology by identifying human remains as well as possible signs of abuse or neglect.
The forensic dentist usually works with forensic anthropologists to help identify a person or to develop a profile based on the remains. Scholarship programs, continuing education courses, and workshops are ways in which oral health professionals can learn more about opportunities in forensic odontology. This field is incredibly important as it helps to identify victims or suspects in cases of death, mass disasters, and other criminal activities.