Like many of my fellow professionals, I did not approach my midlife crisis gracefully. I have changed my hair color so many times that our patients are never sure who I really am. I lost a lot of weight, but instead of buying a red sports car, I bought a Saturn and embarked on a life-long aspiration of becoming a Board Certified Forensic Odontologist. A forensic specialist in my field is called upon not only to identify deceased remains, but also to document abusive bite marks that could lead to the possible conviction of an offending perpetrator. It gives me great satisfaction to know that I might be able to help the grieving relatives of a missing person finally lay that person’s memory to rest, or perhaps to be the instrument that helps protect an adult or child from another abusive adult. Or, maybe I might be able to provide information that would protect an innocent accused from being wrongly jailed.

Because the human dentition is reflective of 32 teeth in the adult, and because each tooth exhibits 5 surfaces that can be restored, the combination of restorations and material used in those restorations serves to make the identification of an individual as unique as that person’s fingerprint. Since fingerprints are taken from tissue, they can be destroyed reasonably easily, especially in the instance of fire. Dentition and restorations are very durable and can withstand great heat without damage. This is why in cases of mass disaster where charred bodies are recovered, you will find the dental practitioner to be an essential part of the post-mortem team.

A bite mark is a patterned injury. Other patterned injuries include belt buckles, electrical cords, heal marks, fork indentations and other tool indentations. Before a forensic dentist can officially state that a bite mark exists, they must do an extensive work-up of the mark using photography, impressions of the mark, and clinical descriptions. Sometimes, as with the dentition of unidentified remains, the bite marks will not be matched to a perpetrator for years. When a bite mark is left on a deceased individual, the bite mark itself is excised and stored in Formalin to be “matched” some day to a future perpetrator. If an alleged perpetrator is apprehended, the same dental practitioner is once again called upon to take models of the accused, and through an extensive evaluation, help decide whether they did indeed inflict the bite. As you would guess, a bite is a very abnormal reaction of rage. We find that biters have frequently retarded themselves psychologically to respond in violence on a two-year-old level. Also, since our teeth are representative of our most primitive means of defense, victims of assault will often inflict bites to protect themselves and take with them the DNA fingerprints of their perpetrators in the flesh and blood that remains between their teeth. In child abuse, patterned injuries from cords or belts or other means of injury could be inflicted by a variety of people. Eyewitness accounts are hearsay, but the bite mark can irrevocably link the perpetrator to the crime and end the cycle of abuse from that person.

In addition of being available to our local Cook County government as an expert in this field, I have been blessed to have been awarded a position with the federal government to assist the identification of those deceased individuals within a mass disaster arena. Although my services to those who lost loved ones to Hurricane Katrina was performed under trying conditions at best, the reward of knowing that families could be united with the deceased far outweighed any of our inconveniences. It is something I will never forget. It will humble me the rest of my life. Please feel free to visit any of the attached forensic links which will assist you in understanding our work. Please feel free to call with any questions you may have about the service, and if the opportunity should arise that you are blessed and wish to donate to a good cause, please consider the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army who were so incredibly good to everyone who responded not only to Katrina but the Twin Towers as well.

The acquisition of the title Forensic Odontologist will take me many years of study and work to complete, but the wonderful people that I meet in this field have made this a truly enjoyable labor. If you have any interest in this subject, or organizations within the specialty, please feel free to contact me.

Forensic Links