Odontology: Dentistry and Bite Marks

Topics: Dentistry, Forensic science, Teeth Pages: 7 (2619 words) Published: February 2, 2008
Forensic Odontology

In cases of mass disasters, fires, murders and many other scenarios the use of forensic Odontology is the key to identification. Without the mastery of forensic dentistry the investigation process and identification of victims and perpetrators would be nearly impossible.

Forensic Odontology is the application of the arts and science of dentistry to the legal system. Included in the application of Odontology are the use of dentition, bite mark identification and the analysis of negligence. Before one can begin to greatly appreciate the use of this method, the knowledge of its history is of key importance. The earliest dated use of forensic dentistry is in the 1st century A.D. when wife of Roman Emperor Claudius wanted to see the decapitated head if his mistress. His mistress had a discolored front tooth and could easily be identified. Also, King William the Conqueror bit his mail to seal soft wax, enclosing the letters. When doing so, the King would create an outline of his angled teeth in the wax. Another example of this investigation in history indicated 1776 when Paul Revere used a denture to identify an old friend and patient from the battle of Bunker Hill. The United States court system did not adopt this system of dentistry until the mid 1800's. The first recorded mass disaster to use Odontology was the Vienna Opera House fire in 1849. Then, approximately 100 years later human bite marks were permitted in court for identifying a biting assailant (James, Nordby).

The advancement of science and technology in the application of forensic dentistry has greatly advanced within the past 50 years. Patient x-rays, records and photographs became more widely used in the 80's, and advanced cameras were able to detail teeth and mass disasters. However, the education of forensic dentistry is paid little attention to while the need for these technicians continues to increase. The process of becoming a forensic dentist requires a license in dentistry and at least four years of training (James, Nordby).

Forensic Dentists are frequently requested to give expert witness testimony. These circumstances require the expert knowledge of Odontology and are used to explain the process and use for a jury during trial. Often, forensic dentists who assist in a specific case will testify to their knowledge and assistance in the investigation. Their testimony has the power of persuading a jury either for or against the defendant. For example, a special use in their testimony is for analysis of bite marks. The forensic dentist is called upon to recall, recognize and analyze bite marks as they apply to the case, and then informs a jury on how the process works and why it is so reliable. Expert witness testimony may also be called upon by dentists for personal injury cases. The dentist will answer the questions; did negligence by the dentist or physician or his or her staff result in injury to the patient, and was the treatment of the patient by the professional physician below the standard care for the community (James, Nordby)?

Body identification by means of dental recognition is the most common use of Odontology. The beginning stages require the review of the oral cavity. Each individual has two types of dentitions in their lifetimes; primary and permanent dentition. Primary dentition develops from around 4 months and lasts until about 6 months to two years of age. After 2 years the adult teeth begin to grow, and take approximately 6 to 8 years to develop completely. Primarily, adults have 20 primary teeth and 32 permanent teeth. The jaw is equally divided in half consisting of the upper jaw, the Maxilla, and the lower jaw, the Mandible. Each tooth along the jaw is numbered individually. The structure of the tooth itself consists of the crown; the tooth covering called the enamel, the root also known as the cementum, special fibers that join the ligaments of the tooth, the socket or...
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