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Year : 2019  |  Volume : 6  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 63-64

A new kid on the block: Forensic odontology

Department of Oral Pathology and Microbiology, Dr. D. Y. Patil Dental College and Hospital, Dr. D. Y. Patil Vidyapeeth, Pune, Maharashtra, India

Date of Submission04-Dec-2019
Date of Acceptance05-Dec-2019
Date of Web Publication23-Dec-2019

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Rohan Ashok Gawali
Department of Oral Pathology and Microbiology, Dr. D. Y. Patil Dental College and Hospital, Dr. D. Y. Patil Vidyapeeth, Pune, Maharashtra
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/jdrr.jdrr_76_19

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How to cite this article:
Gawali RA. A new kid on the block: Forensic odontology. J Dent Res Rev 2019;6:63-4

How to cite this URL:
Gawali RA. A new kid on the block: Forensic odontology. J Dent Res Rev [serial online] 2019 [cited 2023 Jan 30];6:63-4. Available from: https://www.jdrr.org/text.asp?2019/6/3/63/273912

It will be a three-part series in which I will cover the scope of forensic odontology in the first part, education and training of forensic odontology in the second part, and the hurdles and future of forensic odontology in India in the last part.

How much ever the society advances, crime cannot be eradicated from the society. In fact, crime started with humankind. Heinous and gruesome crimes have plagued humankind since the very beginning. Many cases of such heinous crimes such as murder and rape are pending in the courts for want of evidence. The law enforcement agencies until recently relied heavily upon the eye witness testimony, which can be unreliable and inaccurate due to varied reasons.

Forensic odontology is the application of the knowledge of dentistry for the resolution of legal issues. Unlike other specialties of dentistry where the dentist is working in the interest of patient's oral and general well-being, the forensic odontologist is working in the interest of law and justice.

In spite of it being a well-established specialty in developed nations, in India, the field of forensic odontology is in a very nascent stage. Many nations, including our neighbor countries such as Nepal and Sri Lanka, are already utilizing forensic odontology in varied cases ranging from disaster victim identification to bite mark identification, from detection of cases of abuse to age estimation of illegal immigrants, and so on. A forensic odontologist may be called upon in various instances involving

  1. Disaster victim identification
  2. Identification of recovered human remains
  3. Bite mark analysis
  4. Age estimation of remains as well as a living individual
  5. Sex determination of remains
  6. Opinion on dental trauma with respect to Section 320 Indian Penal Code (IPC)
  7. Expert witness in the court involving other dentists such as Consumer protection Act (CPA)-related claims – dental jurisprudence.

  Abuse Cases Top

Teeth being the hardest structures of the human body have the ability to out-survive the harshest environments out there.[1] Teeth have already shown to survive prolonged burials,[2] submersion in water,[2] exposure to intense heat,[3],[4],[5],[6] exposure to acids,[7] etc., However, what makes teeth favorite among forensic professionals is the fact that teeth are unique among different individuals. Just like DNA and fingerprints, the arrangement of teeth in the mouth of an individual such as spacing between teeth, crowding of teeth, rotation of a tooth, chipped or a broken tooth, missing tooth, and its various possible combinations makes the dentition unique to that individual. Dental treatments carried out on teeth (known as dental artifacts) such as fillings, root canal treatments, crowns, and implants make the dentition more individualistic and unique.[8] This very fact is utilized by forensic odontologists to arrive at the identification of the individual in cases of disasters and recovery of unknown body or human remains. Bite mark identification relies on the same premise that, as each dentition is unique, the mark left by it is unique too.

Age estimation is required in many civil as well as criminal cases, involving living as well as dead individuals. In India, many births occur outside the hospital, especially in villages, and these births are not reported to the authorities that issue birth certificate.[9] When this child goes to the school, the date of birth (DOB) is arbitrarily entered and the child is given admission to the school. There may arise questions about the credibility of the DOB in the future.

Not only is age estimation required in cases where legal proof of DOB is absent, but it may also be demanded by the court, in spite of the presence of legal documents, indicating the DOB in certain special cases where the stakes are high. Age estimation report is usually required in cases where the accused is about the age of 18 years, the age of majority! Age estimation is also essential in cases involving juvenile in conflict with law.

Age estimation is done by studying the biological maturity of various organ systems, such as bone development, sexual development, overall somatic growth, and dental development. The most desirable quality of any age estimation technique is its high correlation with the age. As teeth development occurs in a highly regulated manner and not much affected by environmental, local, systemic, and nutritional factors, it is one of the most reliable and accurate means of age estimation.[10]

Teeth also exhibit sexual dimorphism, in the form of metric and nonmetric traits. Teeth along with the jaw bones and skull can predict the sex of the remains with an accuracy as high as 90%.[11] Age and sex are one of the most important components of the biological profile of an individual. In case the antemortem dental data are unavailable or not traceable, this information about the individual's identity greatly helps the investigative agencies in narrowing down the possibilities.

Many a times, the dentist is unaware of the fact that a case of broken tooth he/she is treating for may be a potential medicolegal case (MLC). This is because dentists are not acquainted to laws relevant to day-to-day private dental practice. A chipped, broken, fractured, or avulsed tooth is a ground for MLC under Section 320 IPC, which describes “Grievous Hurt.” The patients have the legal right to autonomy and self-determination enshrined within Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. If a dentist acts without a legally valid consent regardless of his good intentions toward the patient, he/she can be charged under Sections of IPC 350 (criminal force) and 351 (assault).

Dentist is at a vantage position to detect and report potential cases of abuse. In many cases of physical and sexual abuse, the injuries are located on the head, face, neck, and oral region.[12],[13],[14] Not only treating any oro-facial injuries of an abused child is the prime duty of dentists, but it is also a moral responsibility to report such cases to child care authorities (1098) to prevent further harm.[15]

This forms an overview of forensic odontology for the general dentist. In a nutshell, the practice of forensic odontology relies on application of knowledge of all specialties of dentistry cohesively to solve critical legal questions. Least to say, the knowledge of forensic odontology definitely enriches the private dental practice and provides immense work satisfaction whenever this knowledge is put to test.

The next article of this series will discuss institutions offering formal courses and training in the subject of forensic odontology.

  References Top

Rai B, Anand S. Role of forensic odontology in tsunami disasters. Internet J Forensic Sci 2006;2:1.  Back to cited text no. 1
de Freitas Vincenti SA, Biancalana RC, Alves da Silva RH, De Carvalho Panzeri Pires-de-Souza F. Colour stability of dental restorative materials submitted to conditions of burial and drowning, for forensic purposes. J Forensic Odontostomatol 2018;36:20-30.  Back to cited text no. 2
Priyanka S, Prasad K, Raghavendra B, Avinash K, Arati P. Teeth in fire – Morphologic and radiographic alterations: An in vitro study. J Forensic Res 2015;6:1000277.  Back to cited text no. 3
Luntz LL, Luntz P. Handbook for Dental Identification. Philadelphia: LWW; 1973.  Back to cited text no. 4
Andersen L, Juhl M, Solheim T, Borrman H. Odontological identification of fire victims--potentialities and limitations. Int J Legal Med 1995;107:229-34.  Back to cited text no. 5
Maciejewska A, Wlodarczyk R, Pawlowski R. The influence of high temperature on the possibility of DNA typing in various human tissues. Folia Histochem Cytobiol 2015;53:322-32.  Back to cited text no. 6
Seethapathy T, Sanjeevareddygari S, Srinivas MS, Manthapuri S, Ramanand OV, Reddy SK, et al. Effect of acids on teeth and restorative materials: An aid in forensic odontology. J Hard Tissue Biol 2019;28:21-30.  Back to cited text no. 7
Pretty IA, Sweet D. A look at forensic dentistry-Part 1: The role of teeth in the determination of human identity. Br Dent J 2001;190:359-66.  Back to cited text no. 8
A report 'Vital Statistics of India Based on the Civil Registration System 2016' by the office of the Registrar General, India, Ministry of Home Affairs, Vital Statistics Division, Civil Registration System Section. Available from: http://www.censusindia.gov.in/2011-Documents/CRS_Report/CRS%20FINAL%20REPORT%202016_21062018.pdf. [Last accessed on 2019 Dec 13].  Back to cited text no. 9
Melo M, Ata-Ali J. Accuracy of the estimation of dental age in comparison with chronological age in a Spanish sample of 2641 living subjects using the Demirjian and Nolla methods. Forensic Sci Int 2017;270:276.e1-7.  Back to cited text no. 10
Krogman WM. The Human Skeleton in Forensic Medicine. Illinois, USA: Charles C. Thomas; 1962.  Back to cited text no. 11
Ambrose JB. Orofacial signs of child abuse and neglect: A dental perspective. Pediatrician 1989;16:188-92.  Back to cited text no. 12
Vale GL, Noguchi TT. Anatomical distribution of human bite marks in a series of 67 cases. J Forensic Sci 1983;28:61-9.  Back to cited text no. 13
Pretty IA, Sweet D. Anatomical location of bitemarks and associated findings in 101 cases from the United States. J Forensic Sci 2000;45:812-4.  Back to cited text no. 14
Patil B, Hegde S, Yaji A. Child abuse reporting: Role of dentist in India – A review. J Indian Acad Oral Med Radiol 2017;29:74-7.  Back to cited text no. 15
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