The Rise of Forensic Dentistry: From Ancient Rome to the Present Day

In the trial of John Webster, Dr. Parkman's dentist identified the teeth as part of the maxillary and mandibular dentures he had manufactured three years earlier for the victim. This was the first time that dental evidence was used to convict a murderer. The earliest recorded use of registered dental identification dates back to 66 AD, during the Roman Empire.

Emperor Claudius was married to Agrippina, who was known for her jealousy. He feared that a wealthy and divorced Lollia Pauline would be a threat to his marriage, so he ordered his soldiers to kill her and bring back her head. Agrippina was able to confirm her death by recognizing the unique features and misalignments of Lollia Pauline's teeth. On July 6, 1991, in Vancouver, British Columbia, the body of Mary Lynn Breeden, 30, was discovered in a garbage container, burning hours before turning to ash from a gasoline fire.

She had been seen in a nightclub the night before she was found (Dawn). Mary Lynn Breeden's remains were identified by an active janitor as a small charred figure. Investigators had to be creative because most of the DNA that could have been useful in identifying or linking the crime to a suspect was lost in the extreme heat of the fire. This case marked the first time that dental pulp was used to convict a suspect.

Along with forensic dentistry, a team of forensic image analysts helped convict 25-year-old Chris Cruz (student and model) for the most serious crime (“charred remains”). Forensic dentistry was used and dental pulp was removed as a sample along with evidence of blood (jacket covered in blood with a playboy bunny collar in the pocket) found in Cruz's (Ogilvie) car. Forensic dentistry is used to solve many cases and help identify victims of many crimes, including those involving fire caused by “charred remains”. Although forensic dentistry may seem like a modern practice, it is believed that its first use dates back to India in the late 12th century, or even earlier during the Roman Empire.

Forensic dentistry is a discipline that includes dental identification of human remains, estimation of dental age, testimony in court, and analysis of bite marks. It has been successfully used to identify victims of disasters such as the tsunami in Southeast Asia in December 2004.I recently returned from attending my fourth annual scientific meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS). This year I had the opportunity to meet and learn from some of the most experienced forensic scientists in the world. The rise of forensic semiotics has placed new emphasis on studying the relationship between criminology, forensic sciences and how crime is represented in popular media.

Keiser-Neilson defined forensic dentistry as “that branch of forensic dentistry that, for the sake of justice, is concerned with the proper management and examination of dental tests and with the proper evaluation and presentation of dental findings.” Forensic chemistry is another field related to forensic dentistry which applies chemistry and forensic toxicology in legal settings.