Contact Number: 01752 668 253
A Forensic Odontologist in simple terms, is a dentist that specialises in interpreting dental evidence for the courts.
The work of a Forensic Odontologist mostly covers the identification of human remains as the dental condition of a body gives a good indication of age at the time of death – therefore reducing the number of ‘missing persons’ being considered.
The dental records of a missing person are compared to the dental condition of the body and the identification is then, often confirmed. The Odontologist will prepare a written report for the Coroner in court of law.
In homicide investigations, a Forensic Odontologist is able to provide detailed information regarding injuries to the head, as well as injuries that have been made by the teeth of the assailant.
In recent years, the work of an Odontologist has evolved from examining teeth in the mortuary to attending police stations to assess the marks on the skin of a victim, therefore leading to the Forensic title.
Bite Mark Analysis
Assailants occasionally leave tooth mark on their victim’s bodies. Unlike a bruise or black eye, teeth marks leave distinct characteristics which can identify and lead to a prosecution or, on the other hand, may exclude other suspects from the investigation.
Teeth marks change with time as they heal. In live victims the first person to suspect a bite mark is never the Odontologist, thus it is vitally important to obtain a good undistorted photograph of the marks as soon as possible.
Impressions of the suspects teeth are compared, using a measured photograph of the cast, to images of the injury. The Odontologist can then give an expert opinion as to whether the suspect can be excluded from the investigation or not.
It is not unknown for faked bite marks to reach court. Self inflicted bites, which are deemed as definitely to be caused by teeth can be analysed using the accused’s teeth patterns and using a logical approach to determining the area that has been bitten and, if in fact, the alleged victim could have inflicted the would themselves. Comparison of the accused teeth with a measured, distortion–free photograph of the mark will eliminate suspects and prove the marks to be faked.
The development of teeth follows a fairly regular time table. Following an examination, a Forensic Odontologist can provide an accurate estimation of age for individuals of up to 21 years old. Examples of these type of dental examinations have been used to determine the rights of young asylum seekers carrying no documentation. However, an x-ray is also required to be taken for accuracy and, with issues of consent, can be difficult to attain; particularly as the subject is aware that the younger their appearance, the ‘better’ entitlements they are likely to receive in the UK.
After the age of 21, age estimation through dental examination becomes more difficult. The Odontologist is required to assess wear on the tooth surfaces and has the need for certain information such as an idea of the culture in which the person lived.
Disaster Victim Identification
In cases of disaster or accidents where there are fatalities, bodies will be found without the necessary paperwork to identify them. The police will access a list of ‘missing people’ and sought dental records to identify the bodies.
However, in larger scale disasters, a higher level of identity is required and visual identification is not acceptable on its own. Dental identification is used in these circumstance to exclude potential matches - reducing the odds for other agencies.
Dental evidence has played a significant part in the identification of victims in many disasters and global catastrophes including; the 7/7 London Bombings, the South East Asia Tsunami, the Concorde crash in Paris, the Mont Blanc Tunnel fire, the Zeebrugge Ferry disaster and many others.
Identification of the dead is not usually a problem. People are usually identified by relatives or through documents such as passports and hospital ID bracelets. However, if a death triggers an inquest, one of the Coroner’s duties is to determine identity beyond reasonable doubt.
If, for instance, the face of the fatality is too disfigured, the value of photographs and identification documents comes into question.
Contrary to the impression given by the media, the next step is not facial reconstruction or DNA. The Coroner will request the opinion of a Forensic Odontologist. The expert will compare the dental records available for a ‘missing person’ with the dental features of the unidentified body. If the characteristics coincide, this evidence will be added to other evidence to establish the identity of the individual.
Call in the expert
Dr Simon Crewe has been practising Forensic Odontology since 1999, after qualifying through his Father’s own practice in Plymouth. Dr Crewe today works with local Police Homicide teams, Coroners, local Paediatricians, Child Abuse Investigation Units, detective teams investigating rape claims and increasingly with lawyers defending a client.
He retired from general practice in 2003 but regularly volunteers his expertise with Mercy Ships, providing dentistry from makeshift facilities across countries in West Africa.
In 2005, Dr Crewe worked in Thailand with the Thai Tsunami Victim Identification Team.
For further information, please call Dr Simon Crewe on 01752 668 253 or visit www.simoncrewe.co.uk