Forensic odontology as an aid for victim identification in mass disasters

Akhil A. Shankar, Rishikesh C. Dandekar


Forensic odontology essentially deals with criminal
identification by their dental records and aiding to
get them to task. With a spike in the mass disasters
occurring in the modern world, the focus of this
subject has expanded to include the identification
of the victims of these natural or man-made
calamities. Although articles in the recent past
suggest the importance of the forensic odontologist
in the investigating team, only few have provided the
difficulties faced by the team and the actual figures
where forensic odontologists have helped.
The recent mayhem in Japan has redirected our focus
on mass disasters. Various authors have emphasized
on the importance of forensic dentistry, and the role
a routine dental practitioner plays in maintenance
of dental records. These records provide valuable
information as they serve to be ante-mortem
records. [1] Naiman et al. have elaborately described the importance a dentist serves at a crime scene.[2]
The importance of ante-mortem records for aiding in
identification, and also being a social responsibility of
the dentist cannot be overlooked, as is also very aptly
explained by Chandra Shekhar and Reddy.[3] Although
the present day scenario encourages and trains the
mind of the young dentist to rigidly follow these
rules, records that have not been maintained over the
years provide a certain difficulty for identification.
Highly skilled forensic dentists overcome these
difficulties by evaluating the dental profile suggesting
the characteristics of the individual, likely to narrow
the search for possible identification.
An analysis of ten mass disasters conducted by
Clark DH reflected the problems faced by the British
forensic odontologists in the investigating team as
well as the success rates in these projects. He also
suggests the employment of a forensic odontologist
from each country through the FDI, which will help
in faster identification of individuals belonging to
the particular country and race.[4] Sarode et al. have
conducted a study providing insights into the actual
forensic investigations using four mass disasters
as their model. The results are suggestive of the
odontology team aiding in identification of an average
of 4% of the victims. These cases are usually the
grossly destroyed cases wherein the facial features
are not obvious and positive for identification. [5]
Rai and Anand have also studied the use of forensic
odontology in the identification cases of the
earthquake of Sumatra in 2004, and have emphasized
on the role of the Thai Tsunami Victim identification
Team (TTVI), as well as the protocols of international
disaster victim identification which mainly involves
four steps of body tagging and bagging, finger
printing, forensic pathology, and forensic dentistry.
Their study also comments on the fact that 61% of
the victims were identified by dental analysis.[6]
The aforementioned details explain the immense use
of a dentist in the forensic team, and also focus on the
problems encountered by the investigating team. A
thorough knowledge of maintenance of ante-mortem
records will provide great help in identification of
the deceased reducing the work load of the victim
identification team.

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