What Does a Forensic Dentist Do? An Expert's Perspective

Forensic dentists are highly experienced and specially trained professionals who use their expertise to help identify unknown remains and trace bite marks to a specific person. Police officers, medical examiners, or coroners can call upon the forensic dentist to do this. Forensic dentistry involves the management, examination, and evaluation of dental evidence in criminal justice cases. Forensic dentists help investigative agencies identify recovered human remains, in addition to identifying whole or fragmented bodies.

Forensic dentists are also known to use their investigative techniques to identify burn victims using the victims' previous dental records. They may also be asked to help determine the age, race, occupation, previous dental history, and socioeconomic status of unidentified human beings. However, identifying race is not possible as there are no physical factors that identify “race” in humans; race itself is a social construct and has no basis in biology. Forensic dentists analyze bite marks, orofacial structures, and other dental evidence to help police identify human remains.

As a forensic dentist, you may also have to attend autopsies, testify in court cases, and gather evidence. Forensic dentistry is the application of dental evidence to both criminal and civil law. This may include identifying sexual abuse; personally identifying the deceased, especially in cases of mass disasters or when facial recognition is inconclusive; or determining the age of the unidentified victims. While identifications have been made through dental recognition since the time of the Roman Empire, and the first recorded case of forensic dentistry used to convict a murder suspect in the United States occurred in 1849, science had not been frequently applied to court cases in the United States before the 1950s.

In 1996, BOLD was created at the University of British Columbia to develop new technologies and techniques in forensic dentistry. Some universities have offered some participation to students of forensic sciences during clinical dental specialty projects, however, they will not credibly graduate from the discipline of forensic dentistry. The validity of the science of forensic dentistry has been questioned in recent decades, especially since DNA analysis has been more widely used since the 1990s. The University of British Columbia program is the only one in North America that offers postgraduate training in forensic dentistry.

Forensic dentists can work in a regular dental office and provide the services needed for investigations. Countries have their own forensic dentistry societies, including the British Forensic Dentistry Association (BAFO) and the Australian Society of Forensic Dentistry (AusFO). These organizations include the Office of Legal Dentistry (BOLD), the American Board of Forensic Dentistry (ABFO), the American Society of Forensic Dentistry (ASFO), the International Organization of Forensic Dentistry (IOFOS), and the Forensic Dentistry Association for Human Rights (AFOHR). The usefulness of dental x-rays tends to be limited to developed countries, where people often visit the dentist and radiography is commonly used as part of routine exams or after any major dental procedure.

In Canada, the Royal College of Dentists has not recognized forensic dentistry, so there is no organization for Canada; however, there are three well-developed and qualified groups for forensic dentistry. However, as all definitions entail, a forensic dentist is someone who understands the importance of combining law and dentistry and can explain complexities and subtleties of dental testing to courts. Insurance companies, hospitals, child protection agencies and other public or private organizations can also offer forensic dentistry jobs according to AAFS. Later on societies, associations and journals specializing in forensic dentistry were created but foundations had already been laid; forensic evidence had been successfully introduced in a criminal case; link had been established to identify victims of a disaster; and first textbook on forensic dentistry had been published.

He served as chief forensic dental consultant for Los Angeles County Forensic Department for more than four decades and testified in hundreds of criminal and civil trials as an expert forensic dentist. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics outlook for forensic science technicians including forensic dentists over next decade compared to other occupations and industries is strong driven by high number of cases and technological advances that help forensic dentists add even more value.