Dr. Marianne Schaefer
Marianne on Electra’s (AOL) web site November 1999

Occupation: General dentist, forensic dentist
DOB: 7/21/55
Education: Bachelor’s degrees in psychology and biology, St. Xavier University, Chicago, 1977; DDS, Loyola University, Chicago, 1981.
Household: Husband, a chemist, and an 11-year-old, Ruth.

Quote: “I’m surprised at how much I use psychology skills over dental skills.”

What I do: “I have a private dental practice with two offices in Chicago. Like many, I did not approach midlife 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 lifelong aspiration of becoming a Board-certified Forensic Odontologist.” Don’t run for your dictionary—it’s a forensic specialist in dentistry. This expert part of a team of criminologists identifies remains, but also documents an attacker’s bite marks on a dead or living victim, or a victim’s bite mark on a perpetrator. She is gaining experience in the field part-time as she prepares for the Board certification so many professions now use to recognize minimum standards in the field.

How forensic dentistry works: “Adults have 32 teeth, each with 5 surfaces that can be restored. The combination of restorations and materials used in the restorations creates a mouth’s ‘fingerprint.’ Even in a disaster with extreme heat, dentition and restorations are very durable.” Victims or perpetrators may leave bite marks that are as good as fingerprints in court. “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 be the instrument that helps protect an adult or child from abuse.”

How I got where I am: Marianne’s pursuit of her dream to study forensics follows similar trailblazing in establishing her private practice. Patients call her “holistic” because she treats the person, not just the toothache or cavity. And, while she calls herself a “conservative treater,” she may also prescribe massage therapy for painful TMJ (TemporoMandibular Joints) ailments or vitamins for gingivitis. Her picture-filled website Dentistry in a Comforting Environment—this is not the humorless general dentist for whom you so dread saying ahhhh—highlights her playful love of Halloween and features her answers to a range of dental questions. “I felt I was eclectic and different and people ought to know it. I thought there’d be kindred spirits out there and there are!”

Why I Do It: “I am a dentist because general dentistry is an invasive form of caregiving and patients are awake, we tend to become very involved in their lives. Patients become like family. I’d always been interested in corrections and criminalistics, so when I turned 40 I gave the gift to myself to continue my education in this area. I’m qualified to work as a forensic dentist and will take my boards within a few years. Right now, I take 1- or 2-week classes as I’m able.”

On success: “My definition of success is listening to and following one’s inner voice, holding true to standards. If success is measured in the circle of friends I’ve gained and the fact that I go to work happily, I am successful.”

How I Keep Some Balance: “I’m addicted to the Internet! I spend a couple hours a day on it. I’m extremely interested in the ability to reach people around the world.” Marianne met a Polish dental student online and arranged for him to travel to the Chicago area to study. “My down time is spent in bed with a pizza, going through catalogues with my daughter.”

Goals: “I’d like to extend the knowledge of forensic dentistry to lay people. I want to establish a program through medical examiner’s and coroner’s offices to educate women and children at risk, so they can understand what a bite mark looks like, and how authorities can document it.”