The application of dentistry to legal problems, as in using teeth to identify the dead.
Teeth are highly resistant to destruction and decomposition after death. In order to identify remains, forensic dentists establish a dental profile to narrow down the possible identity of the victim.
Observations of the deceased's dental records, impressions, and bite marks give the forensic dentist a profile to work with. This profile includes:
- ancestry background
- socio-economic status
- dietary habits
- habitual behaviors
- dental/systemic diseases
Once enough matches are established the forensic dentist can make a positive ID. If more information is needed, in some cases, DNA can be extracted from the pulp chamber of the teeth and compared to the possible victims DNA. This DNA can be extracted from a toothbrush or hair brush.
Forensic dentistry can also be used to identify a suspect in a criminal case. There have been many documented trials that have used the bite marks left on victims to match with the bite marks of a suspect. One famous case where this was applied was the trial of Ted Bundy. His severely misaligned teeth were compared to a bite mark left on the buttocks of one of his victims.
Forensic dentistry has been used by archaeologists and anthropologists to identify certain cultural and historical evidence from ancient human mummies and remains. At one point a CT-scan was performed on the mummy of King Tut in order to determine his cause of death. It was discovered that the scan of his skull showed extremely impacted wisdom teeth. Suggesting infection and an abcess could have contributed to the young king's demise.
Anthropologists can determine from a human's remains what his or her occupation could have been. The remains found could show that the person was a tailor or seamstress, for example, by the tiny fissure cracks in their front teeth. These are caused when the person would hold the sewing needles in their mouths by their teeth.
Diets and diseases are documented after analysis of teeth and surrounding bone structures. It has been noted that prehistoric humans who were mainly hunter and gatherers showed significantly less tooth decay and signs of periodontal diseases. These two dental issues exploded after humans became a more agricultural species and fermentable carbohydrates dominated the diet.
Forensic dentistry is a fascinating dental specialization that isn't only applied to modern day human identification but on humans who were alive more than 3,000 years ago!