Forensic Odontology is a relatively new science that utilizes the dentist’s knowledge to serve the judicial system. Worldwide, dentists qualified in forensic science are giving expert opinion in cases related to human identification, bite-mark analysis, craniofacial trauma and malpractice. Human Identification relies heavily on the quality of dental records. However Forensic Odontologists can still contribute to the identity investigation in the absence of dental record through profiling the deceased person using features related to teeth.
Along with other healthcare providers, dentists encounter cases of injuries which could be non-accidental. Detection, interpretation and management are important from a legal and humanitarian point of view. Dentists should be aware of the legal impact those cases have, and should refer them to the appropriate authorities for suitable action. Forensic Odontology In cases of mass disasters, fires, murders and many other scenarios the use of the forensic Odontology is the key to the identification. Without the mastery of forensic dentistry the investigation process and identification of victims and perpetrators would be nearly impossible.
Forensic dentistry or forensic odontology is the proper handling, examination and evaluation of dental evidence, which will be then presented in the interest of justice. The evidence that may derived from teeth, is the age and identification of the person to whom the teeth may belong. This is done including radiographs, ante-mortem (before death) and post-mortem photographs and DNA. If ante-mortem records are not available, a post mortem record is created by the forensic dentist for possible future comparison.
The comparison is methodical and systematic: Each tooth and structure is examined and compared. Fillings, caps, and restorations play the largest role in the identification process. Similarities should be noted during the comparison process, as well as explainable and unexplainable discrepancies. If a discrepancy is unexplainable, such as a post-mortem tooth that is not present on the ante-mortem record, then odontologist will conclude that two different people are represented. There are many organizations that deal with forensics odontology.
The ABFO (American Board of Forensic Odontology) was organized in 1976 with the auspices of the National Institute of Justice. Their mission is to establish, enhance, and revise as necessary, standards of qualifications for those who practice forensic odontology, and to certify as qualified specialists those voluntary applicants who comply with the requirements of the Board. Their purpose is to identify forensic scientists unequivocally qualified to provide essential professional services for the Nation’s judicial and executive branches of government as long been recognized.
This board consists of individuals who are nationally and internationally recognized experts. Another organization that is related to forensic odontology is the BAFO (British Association for Forensic Odontology). The BAFO exists to encourage education and good practice in forensic odontology and accredit, review performance and mentor practitioners in forensic odontology. The procedure to how a forensic dentistry works is delicate and may take hours to complete. A good example would be if a bite mark was discovered while conducting an autopsy.
One of the first things a forensic dentist will do is obtain a saliva example of the bite. This step can be done by other people as well but it is safer to go with the forensic dentist as he knows how to handle the situation. The next step would be taking photographs of the bite mark. This step is very delicate as the dentist would need to get good lighting, color, and camera angle for his shot to be clear. After these photographs are taken the dentist is to make multiple impressions, casts, or molds of the bite-mark.
Once everything is done the dentist records and saves the impressions in order to compare with any dental records of the victim. Nowadays we can rely on forensic odontology to help determine many cases worldwide. However there are some limitations that can change the outcome of a court case and may put people in jail for the wrong reasons. A person’s dental profile changes overtime, therefore if the process of a case is not done quickly the evidence might be gone for good. Each dentition can produce variable impressions and can change based on pressure and surface of contact.
There are many cases that are based on bite-mark evidence and have been sent to court numerous times because new evidence keeps arriving. For example Ray Krone who was a former boy scout as well as an Air Force sergeant found himself on Arizona’s death row for a crime he did not commit. The case against him was based largely on circumstantial evidence and the testimony of a supposedly “expert” witness who claimed bite marks found on the victim matched Ray’s teeth. In 1992 Ray was sentenced to death. Ray never gave up his hopes on getting a retrial and so in 1994 he got a retrial.
He was convicted once again based on the same evidence presented in 1992. The judge reduced his life sentence to 46 years which was basically still a life sentence being that Ray was already 35 years of age. Rays appeals continued and in 2002 with the help of attorney Alan Simpson, he convinced an appeals court that DNA found at the murder scene indicated the guilt of another man, Kenneth Phillips. Ray became the 100th person exonerated from death row in the United States since 1973. Ray had the experience of being in jail for a crime that he did not commit and now lives on to tell a story.
Another similar case took place on May 23, 1991. A social service worker was found beaten, strangled and stabbed to death. Roy Brown immediately became a suspect to this case being that he had just gotten out of a short term jail sentence. The prosecution relied on the testimony of a bite mark analyst who stated who stated that the seven bite marks on the victim’s body were “entirely consistent” with Brown. A defense expert stated that six of the bite marks were insufficient for analysis and the seventh excluded Brown because it had two more upper teeth than he had.
In 1995, Brown sought testing on the bite mark swabs, but they had been consumed during previous testing. Brown then found documents that had not been disclosed to the defense implicating another man, Barry Bench. In 2003, Brown wrote to Bench, telling him that DNA would implicate him when Brown finally got testing. Five days after the letter was mailed, Bench committed suicide by stepping in front of an Amtrak train. In 2005, the Innocence Project took on Brown’s case and discovered that there were six more saliva stains on the nightshirt that could be tested.
In 2006, DNA testing proved that the saliva on the shirt did not match Brown. Roy Brown was released from prison on January 23, 2007. Roy Brown served a 15 year sentence for a crime that he did not commit at all. Even though Forensic Odontology might help us a lot to complete an investigation it is not that reliable. Sometimes it depends on the expert on the scene because even the experts can mess up on their data and comparisons. Forensic Odontology is not the only method used to resolve a crime scene.
There are many more other ways that a crime scene can be resolve. The type of case that is being investigated plays a huge role on determining what method will be used. I believe that Forensic Odontology would be used on most crime scenes where the body cannot be identified. Off course it is used on many more occasions being that there are cases of rape and as the examples showed there are bite marks that could be identified. With bite marks the forensic odontologist must be very precise and accurate with the information he or she is going to submit.
It is not fare for a person to get convicted for a crime that they did not commit at all. Having an innocent person in jail for so long just to find out that they were innocent the whole time behind bars is just injustice. With all the new technology and people receiving advanced training these days I believe that each crime scene will become that much easier to solve. There are a lot of cases that are tough to resolve but with technology growing and improving I believe that better decisions and accusations can be made. Forensic Odontology will continue to help the law in a big way.
When there is a crime scene that a body cannot be identified Forensic Odontology will step in a give the most accurate identification. If it was not for Forensic Odontology many cases would go unresolved because the body or bite marks on a person were not able to be identified at the crime scene.
About the ABFO. Retrieved October 15, 2012, from the American Board of Forensic Odontology website: http://www. abfo. org/ (2012). BAFO. Retrieved October 16, 2012, from the British Association for Forensic Odontology website: http://www. bafo. org. uk/ McShane, J. (2010). Limitations of Forensic Odontology.
Retrieved October 14, 2012, from the Truth About Forensic Science website: http://www. thetruthaboutforensicscience. com/forensic-odontology/ Krone, R. (2011). From Death Row to Freedom. Retrieved October 15, 2012, from the Witness to Innocence webdiste: http://www. witnesstoinnocence. org/view_stories. php? Ray-Krone-23 Brown, R. (2011). Know the Cases. Retrieved October 16, 2012, from the Innocence Project website: http://www. innocenceproject. org/Content/Roy_Brown. php Siegel, J. , Houck, M. (April 2006). Fundamentals of Forensic Science: Odontology. Burlington, MA: Elsevier Science.