Forensic Dentists: The Unsung Heroes of Dentistry

forensic dentistry RenoLet’s start with a disclaimer: at The Reno Dentist we are fully committed to delivering the highest quality of general and cosmetic dentistry services to living patients. In today’s post, however we will veer a bit off the beaten path, so to speak, and share some insight into an important dental specialty; forensic dentistry. The official term for the use of dentistry in criminal cases and post mortem identification is forensic odontology. These professionals are rarely recognized but play a fundamental role in crime and disaster investigations.

Dental X-rays, dentures, and bite marks are all used to provide clues about the victim’s identity and/or the manner of death. A person’s teeth are as singular as fingerprints and can often sustain forces such as fire, explosions, submersion in water, and natural decay without being destroyed.

Identifying One Victim

Identifying a victim through dental records is aided immensely when authorities have narrowed down a group of suspected victims to just a few people (or, ideally, just one) and can consult the dentists who had treated them. When the identity is totally unknown, a forensic dentist investigates other databases such as those kept by the armed forces and prisons. “Dental identifications are so much quicker and so much less expensive than DNA,” says Dr. Mark Bernstein, dentist and forensic dental consultant.

Identifying Hundreds of Victims

While identifying one victim of a homicide or accident can be relatively straightforward, natural disasters, plane crashes, and other large-scale tragedies are exponentially more involved.

According to Dr. Jeffrey Burkes, chief forensic dental consultant for the 9/11 attacks, over 140 dentists toiled to identify the fragments of remains that were recovered from the scene of the terrorist attacks. The identification effort was an extremely painstaking and complicated process. First, the dentists were assigned to one of four teams. The Go Team gathered evidence from the scene, the Antemortem Team analyzed existing dental records of suspected victims, the Postmortem Team X-rayed the retrieved dental evidence, and the Comparison Team compared the X-rays of the remains of unknown individuals to the records of missing people deemed to have been at the scene. “Dentistry fulfills one of its most important social, moral, and professional obligations by applying its unique knowledge and expertise to the task of identifying countless persons who are tragic victims of fires, catastrophes, disasters, and homicides,” says Burkes.

If you are looking for quality dental care in the Spanish Springs, Virginia City, or Carson City areas, we hope you’ll give The Reno Dentist a call at 775-323-0700 to schedule a consultation.  We offer a wide variety of dental services such as root canals, wisdom teeth extractions, dentures, cleanings and prepless veneers. Call us today!

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Reno, Nevada