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. Identification must proceed along the lines of gathering as much reliable evidence as possible and utilizing this evidence in an attempt to establish a positive identification. Positive body identification may be ascertained via visual means, fingerprint records, dental charts, radiographs, and study models. Visual examination includes hair and eye comparison, noting all distinguishable scars, tattoos, and birthmarks, and, most importantly, recognizing outstanding facial features overlying bony structure, which has maintained its anatomic outline.
When visual identification is impossible, fingerprints and footprints are taken from the body and sent to the appropriate local, city, and federal agencies for a positive comparison match. Many times, however, a body undergoing severe decomposition, mutilated via a sudden, high-impact explosive accident, and/ or subjected to high-intensity fire will make it impossible to finalize a visual and fingerprint identification. The forensic odontologist is then called upon to render his or her expertise in the area of oral identification. The oral remains and associated facial bones are identified, charted, x-rayed, and if necessary, anatomically repositioned to produce within reasonable certainty and facsimile the victim’s ante mortem facial and oral structure.
As with any investigation procedure, the forensic dentist must rely upon the evidence available at the time of ante mortem and post mortem dental comparison. Post mortem findings, whether a single tooth, bits of crowns and/or roots, or portions of jaw or facial bones, will be closely examined and compared to any available ante mortem evidence on hand. The ante mortem evidence will hopefully include the victim’s dental charts, radiographs, and, if possible, study models. All charts should include dates of treatment, with special attention given to dates of radiographs taken.