Odontology (World of Forensic Science)
Forensic odontology is the application of dentistry to the investigation of crime. It has its main applications in identification of corpses and human remains and in bite analysis. Although each person is born with the same number and type of teeth, the dental pattern of each individual is unique. Most people have dental records, or these can be created through making a dental impression from a suspect. These can then be compared to either teeth found on a corpse or bite marks found at the scene of a crime. However, the interpretation of dental evidence is a specialist task, undertaken by a forensic odontologist who may be called as an expert witness in a case.
One day, DNA analysis may become the "gold standard" for identifying an individual. However, if skeletal remains or fragmented corpses from mass disasters are involved, recovery of DNA is by no means certain. Identification by dental records remains the most reliable source of identification under such circumstances. Dental enamel is the hardest substance in the human body, so it does not decay alongside other tissue and will be found alongside skeletal remains.
Although everyone starts out with the same number of teeth, these differ naturally in length, width, and shape. During life, people sustain damage to their teeth; there may be missing teeth, chips, dental work, or misalignments. Taken together, these individual features create a unique pattern. If the person visited a dentist, then there will be a dental record that can be used to establish identity. Even if only a few teeth are available with a set of human remains, the forensic odontologist can still offer an opinion as to the age and habits of that person. This opinion can be set into context with other identifying information.
Bite marks are a valuable type of impression evidence that can be used to identify or eliminate a suspect. They sometimes appear as characteristic curved bruises on the flesh of victims of sexual assault or child abuse. The odontologist will study a dental cast of such bite marks and compare them with dental impressions made from suspects. Bite marks may also be found in soft materials at the scene of crime such as cheese, chocolate, pencils, or apples. They can be an important form of individualizing evidence in the hands of the forensic odontologist. Bitemark evidence has been used to in the trials of many criminals, including the serial killer Ted Bundy.
SEE ALSO Casting; Odontology, historical cases.