Big Red Tooth – Dr Candice Schwartz

Where teeth and health meet

Dental Forensics

on March 8, 2012

I’m always amazed to hear of air crash victims so badly mutilated that they have to be identified by their dental records. What I can’t understand is, if they don’t know who you are, how do they know who your dentist is? “Paul Merton”

Unidentified bodies come to light frequently, having drowned, burned, been murdered, having committed suicide or died from natural causes. Usually sufficient evidence is apparent to be able to positively identify the body, but from time to time, this identification will rely on dental evidence. All mouths are different and the trained eye of the forensic odontologist will be able to offer a considerable amount of useful information. Most obvious will be to provide an accurate charting of the teeth and fillings present to compare with dental records of missing persons. This often leads to a positive identification.

Despite recent advances in DNA technology, dental identification still offers a rapid and cost effective approach.

Even if only a few teeth are available, an opinion can still be offered on age, habits, oral hygiene, and individual features which may match with ante-mortem records.

Where the subject has no teeth, useful information can still be gleaned from the study of any dentures and by X-raying the jaws and skull.

It is important that the services of a forensic odontologist be sought early in these cases, as much time consuming police work can be avoided given a dental report early in the investigation.

Bite Marks:

Marks are frequently seen on the victims of assault including child abuse but not recognised as bites. This vital evidence often goes unrecognised by the untrained person. Any curved bruise should be treated as suspicious and the sevices of a forensic odontologist sought early in the investigation. Not only will an opinion be given but the odontologist will be able to work with the photographer to demonstrate the bite to advantage using different light sources.

It will also be the function of the forensic odontologist to take dental impressions of any suspects, be prepared to make a comparison and, if necessary, to present the evidence in court as an expert witness.

The forensic odontologist will also be able to recognise and record bite marks in other substances such as foodstuffs (apples, cheese, chocolate), leather (key rings and belts) and wood (pencils).

The shape of the bitemark can give useful clues about the person who caused it and may lead to the implication or exclusion of an individual under investigation.


An assailant punched his victim and then threatened to kill her. In the struggle he bit her on the breast. A forensic odontologist directed the photography of the bite mark, took impressions of the suspect’s teeth and prepared transparent overlays to make a comparison. This evidence convinced an Old Bailey jury that the accused was, indeed, the attacker. He was convicted and sentenced accordingly.


Resource: “British Association for Forensic Odontology – BAFO”



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