“I’m always amazed to hear of air crash victims so badly mutilated that they have to be identified by their dental records. What I can’t understand is, if they don’t know who you are, how do they know who your dentist is?”
– Paul Merton
The above quote may make you stop to wonder or chuckle, but actually, that isn’t quite how forensic dentistry works. Dental records can establish who it is or isn’t if it’s known who it might be. Since the hypothetical plane crash victims would be a specific set of passengers who’s names were already known (since they would be listed in the airline’s flight records) but who’s remains, unfortunately, all look the much the same, the dental records could then be obtained from all the dentists of all know victims, and could be used to match remains to names… and to ultimately make sure they found their way to their loved ones to be given a proper funeral. It’s a bit morbid, yes, but also very interesting to think teeth are strong enough and hard enough to remain largely intact after such horrible accidents. The practice can help provide closure to loved ones.
Forensic dentistry can also be used to bring about justice. In crimes where the teeth have been used as weapons, the impressions left by bite marks can be compared to the teeth that are accused of having left them, which can help provide evidence of guilt. Or in some cases, help to exonerate someone wrongly accused.
A whole wealth of information can be gleaned from a professional study of dental remains… age, diet, race, and sometimes even occupation can be indicated. When archeologists recover human remains, jaw bones and fragments and teeth can provide valuable information about the lives and culture of the people being studied. The condition of the teeth and the calcified plaque can even point to the foods they ate.
Along with things like fingerprints, each person’s teeth and dental restorations are a very useful tool in narrowing down suspects or getting definitive closure on the identity of a deceased individual. You probably never stopped to think that our teeth were that unique! It’s pretty interesting, but we hope none of our Mall of Georgia Dentistry patients ever have a need for forensic dentistry! (Unless any of you are ever on an archeological dig, maybe… but only then 🙂 )