By Avril Eyewu – Edero
In 2012, following the Dana plane crash incident in Lagos state, the Department of Pathology and Forensic medicine at the Lagos State University Teaching hospital, Ikeja where I worked at that time was given the task to identify all the victims of the crash.
Apart from collecting biological samples for DNA analysis, one of the process we undertook for identification was charting the teeth of each victim and matching with an available dental record to ascertain a match.
Forensic odontology is one of the cool tools we use in Forensic science for identification.
Forensic odontology is simply the application of dentistry to legal issues. It is useful in the identification of an offender whose bite mark was found on a victim or in the crime scene and also for the identification of an unknown remain, matching with dental records.
For example, in a mass disaster investigation such as the Dana plane crash in 2012, the victim’s teeth were documented, x-rayed, measured with their characteristics.
This was compared with the dental records provided by their relatives through their dentist. We were able to get positive identifications of victims with this method, which was also confirmed with the DNA analysis carried out.
In a criminal investigation, a suspect could leave a bite mark impression at the scene, either by biting the victim, biting into an apple and leaving it at the scene or chewing into any material.
The investigator’s first goal is to ensure that photographs and measurements of the impression are taken, DNA could also be recovered from the impression. Then a cast of the impression using readily available casting mix (you can use the casting powder that dentist use, which is readily available in Nigeria) is taken, to collect the impression in an analyzable manner and for easy presentation in court.
If the suspect is apprehended, the investigator can collect an impression of the suspect’s teeth and match it with the one found at the scene of the crime, to check for comparison.
The suspect’s dental characteristics can be collected by using transparent overlays. This can be documented on an acetate sheet for comparison.
During violent attacks, bite marks may be found in the breast, buttocks, arm or stomach area of the victim.
The victim could also leave a bite mark impression on the suspect as a form of self-defense, this can help link a victim to a suspect. This can be collected for comparison and used to build a case.
The teeth also give some useful information that could help an investigation especially with the identification of human remains.
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For example, a dental eruption is expected in a certain age group, this could give an estimate of the age of the remains.
Also, in a case when the remnants of an unknown child are found, the dental analysis can help give an estimate of the age of the child to help with identification.
Forensic science is broad and every aspect of life has an application that forensic can work with. Forensic odontology is one of those unique applications and has broad usefulness that cannot be overlooked for investigations.