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How to perform dental forensic identification of deceased persons with no dental restorations?

 

Restorative dental work has been one of the main components of the forensic identification process. 

With fewer dental restorations placed, the forensic dentists must look into other areas of dental identifiers.

 

Since 1984, Interpol has used three primary identifiers to establish the identity of a deceased person. The identifiers are fingerprint analysis, DNA analysis and comparative dental analysis. While fingerprinting is mostly the same, DNA-analysis has improved and dental analysis has become more complex.

– Comparative dental analysis of a victim is based on an objective comparison of the deceased’s dental status with available dental information for a missing person, says NIOMs Simen E. Kopperud. In a recent article published in Aktuell Nordisk Odontologi, he and Sigrid I. Kvaal explains the recent shift.

– Until now, dental identification has been based mostly on the restorative treatments seen in the victim’s dentition, in comparison with what has been registered in a missing person’s dental records, Kopperud explains.

Paradigm shift

However, in the last 20 years, clinical dentistry has gone through a paradigm shift with regard to the amount of operative dental treatment provided.

– Significantly fewer dental restorations have been placed during the last decades compared with earlier years, Kopperud explains.

This means that an increasing number of patients have few- or no dental restorations in their teeth. – As a consequence, in near future it will become more difficult to find identification markers based on dental restorations, and forensic dentists must look for other dental traits that can contribute to establishing the identity of victims, Kopperud says.

Dental anomalies

One such trait is a dental anomaly. In most people, tooth development and eruption follow a certain structure. In some cases, however, anomalies occur, and these can be used to identify victims with few or no dental restorations.

Although the prevalence of dental restorations has decreased, another operative dental treatment has increased during the last decades.

– Dental implants that replace lost or missing teeth, have become a common form of treatment, even among patients without other dental restorations. It may be possible to recognize the producer of the implant by studying and comparing radiographs. If the information is also noted in patient records, it can contribute to a dental identification. In time, there is also a hope that dental implants will be marked with a specific ID number and recorded in a national register, Kopperud says.

New possibilities

Another oral feature under investigation for as an identifying mark are the Palatinate rugae.

– These are the irregular, asymmetrical connective tissue folds in the hard palate. The pattern seems to be unique to each person – almost like a fingerprint. If the patient’s charts include a cast model or a scan of the palate, this structure may be used for dental identification, Kopperud says in closing.

Forensic Science in Lab. Forensic Scientist examining skull with evidences. Byline: microgen/istock.

Reference

Kopperud SE, Kvaal SI. Hvordan utføre rettsodontologisk identifisering av personer uten tannrestaureringer? Aktuell Nordisk Odontologi 2022, Universitetsforlaget, Norge, 2022. s. 164-79.

NIOM Newsletter March 2022