Forensic Odontology

Frequently Asked Questions
Forensic Odontology in the IAI

At the request of the President, the following information concerning forensic odontology is provided in the format of Frequently Asked Questions. Most of the information has been gathered from existing sources, and has been referenced to other guiding documents as noted. Inclusion in this position paper permits wider dissemination of information about the use of dental science in jurisprudence.

  1. Why is the IAI involved with forensic odontology?

    The IAI is addressing a growing need in the judicial system and law enforcement community. Forensic odontology provides the forensic expertise sometimes necessary in re-establishing the identity of otherwise unrecognizable human remains and the differential diagnosis of adult/child/animal patterned injuries and those patterned injuries which mimic bite marks.

    1. Forensic odontology, through the specialized knowledge of dental science, provides a scientific means of human identification through the interpretation and comparison of narrative and radiographic dental records.
    2. The familiarity with dental and oral anatomy provides the means of differentiating human fragmentary dental structures from similar animal dentitions.
    3. Recognition of dental materials and design utilized in the fabrication of dental prosthesis provides leads to the origin and social status of the decedent.
    4. The discipline also provides the proficiency necessary in the recognition and interpretation of patterned evidence thought to be caused by human teeth. Patterned evidence is especially valuable in the investigation of crime and the successful prosecution and conviction of the perpetrator. It is fairly common patterned evidence in:
      1. Sexual assaults.
      2. Child, spousal, and elder abuse.
      3. Homicides.
      4. The perpetrator being bitten, when the victim fights-back.

  2. What is forensic odontology and is it one of the disciplines recognized by the IAI that is involved with digital evidence?

    Forensic odontology is the application of a broad range of dental sciences to questions of law in the examination of both physical and digital evidence in the form of medical/dental narrative records and reports, together with photographs/radiographs to:

    1. Establish the identity of otherwise unrecognizable human remains through the interpretation and comparison of a known dental record and radiographs, with post mortem charts and radiographs.
    2. Review records of dental treatment, when the standard of care is questioned.
    3. Examine and interpret patterned injuries thought to be caused by human teeth.
    4. Since both narrative dental records and radiographic images are increasingly in digital for-mat, forensic odontology is only one of several of the IAI forensic disciplines involved with digital evidence.

  3. What is the IAI Subcommittee on forensic odontology, its mission, and goals?

    The IAI subcommittee on forensic odontology is composed of academic, civilian, and military dentists possessing specialized training in the handling, processing, interpretation, reporting, and testimony concerning dental evidence. This involves:

    1. Dental restorative materials.
    2. Identification of fragmentary human dental remains.
    3. Repatriation of the human remains of those recovered Missing in Action (MIA) from several military campaigns.
    4. Provide the identification resources necessary in the investigation and resolution of terrorist activities
    5. To actively participate in the committee program of work and development.
    6. To develop and recommend membership qualifications and standards for the forensic podiatry discipline.

  4. What are the mission and goals of the Forensic Odontology Subcommittee?

    1. Promote the principles of forensic science for gathering, handling, processing, and storage of all forms of dental evidence. To be the center of excellence in the IAI community for fostering increased awareness of the value of dental evidence in the interests of justice and assistance to the law enforcement community.
    2. Interact in a positive way with other IAI disciplines to encourage education and appreciation for the use, protection, and handling of dental evidence.
    3. Encourage presentation of case related dental evidence issues at IAI meetings and conferences.
    4. Provide training for the law enforcement forensic community in the importance, recognition and preservation of dental evidence.
    5. Cooperate with other related patterned evidence groups; for example, SWGDE (Scientific Working Group on Digital Evidence) and SWGIT (Scientific Working Group on Imaging Technologies) for the resolution of common issues.
    6. Respond to the “basic problems” listed below, which were identified in the National Academy of Science report, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward (2009) through applied research (NAS report, pp. 175-76.):
      • “The uniqueness of the human dentition has not been established by scientific standards.”
      • The “ability of the dentition, if unique, to transfer a unique pattern to human skin and the ability of skin to maintain that uniqueness has not been scientifically established.”
      • “A standard for the type, quality and number of individual characteristics required to indicate that a bite mark has reached the threshold of evidentiary value has not been established.”

  5. How does the Forensic Odontology Subcommittee interact with other related IAI subcommittees?

    Members routinely participate not only in their primary disciplines and interests for which they joined the IAI, but serve on committees and conduct workshops and educational presentations on the local, State and national level. This integration is healthy and promotes better understanding and cooperation among IAI members. Some members volunteer to serve on IAI committees such as the Science and Practice committee, the Journal of Forensic Identification editorial review board and the Forensic Odontology Subcommittee to assist in the preparation of training materials and coordination of dental evidence presentations at IAI conferences.

  6. Is Forensic Odontology a recognized and accredited forensic discipline?

    1. Forensic Odontology is recognized by the International Association for Identification, the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, and world-wide as a forensic discipline. It has contributed significantly in the United States in many high profile investigations (e.g., the identification of victims of serial killers Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy, the human identification in multiple major investigations such as the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and other terrorist activities). Routinely, it is used by almost all major medical examiner’s and coroner’s offices on a daily basis for the identification of human remains when visual identification or friction ridge skin is no longer available.
    2. There are basic criteria which forensic odontologists must meet, but the only certification which meets the standards of accreditation of the Forensic Science Accreditation Board is issued by the American Board of Forensic Odontology, Inc.
    3. The minimum qualification for the practice of forensic odontology without board certification is the completion of an accredited dental education, the possession of a DDS degree (Doctor of Dental Surgery), or a DMD degree (Doctor of Dental Medicine), and licensure in the state in which one conducts a practice.

  7. What certification is available for examiners in the discipline?

    Certificates of proficiency (diplomas) commonly referred to as board certification are granted upon successfully challenging the examination conducted by the credentialing and examination committee of the American Board of Forensic Odontology, Inc. This is signified by adding the initials “D ABFO” to ones signature, designating the individual is a Diplomate, American Board of Forensic Odontology.

  8. What are some related web links to learn more about forensic odontology?

  9. Are there current guidelines available to support law enforcement in the area of forensic odontology?

    The American Board of Forensic Odontology (www.abfo.org) has established guidelines for:

    1. The development of a dental identification team for mass fatalities
    2. Guidelines for human identification
    3. Guidelines for the analysis and reporting of bite mark evidence
    4. Guidelines for missing persons and unidentified human remains
    5. A complete Diplomate reference manual for board certified forensic odontologists