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April 10th, 2019

How Teeth Can Solve Crimes

The world is full of mysteries, some of which become solved by examining the structure of teeth. Forensic dentistry assists in uncovering the truth behind questions of identity. From lifestyle to ancestry, your teeth say a lot about you.
crime screen dental xray

What is forensic dentistry?

The handling, examination, and evaluation of evidence provided by dental records get used to investigate and help solve crimes.

Ted Bundy, one of the most notorious serial killers in the United States was found guilty of murder all because of a bite mark. Curious? Bundy assaulted and bit one of his victims, Lisa Levy. The bite mark left a dental imprint behind. How did Bundy get convicted? Investigators took a plaster cast of his teeth exposing an uneven alignment and chipping. The Forensic dentist examined the details provided by the cast comparing them with the bite mark left on Lisa. Everything matched. Subsequently, Ted Bundy was convicted and executed for the crime. Without this piece of evidence, it is unclear if this murderer would have ever been found guilty. Information provided by dental records gives clues to your identity. The structure of your teeth and gums are unique to each person.

What can your dental records reveal

Think about when you visit the dentist for a checkup. Your dentist records each tooth indicating variations like chips, dental work, crowns, and bridges. Positive and negative dental health issues get noted. These markings are your individual dental records, specific to your mouth. Want to know more about who you are? Ask your dentist for a look at your x-rays. The pictures may uncover some dental work you had as a child. Your teeth can tell other stories too.

Ethnicity and age can be roughly determined by examining your teeth. Some Asians and North Americans are known to have incisors with scooped out backs. Europeans tend to have flat, straight teeth with a smooth back and front sides. Age can also be identified by looking at tooth development. Teeth grow an average of 4 micrometres each day and different types of teeth develop at incremental ages. Ever heard of the expression “long in the tooth”? This term refers to someone that is generally older because the longer your teeth are, the older you are.

How Teeth can Solve CrimesWhy are teeth a great source for identifying a person?

Teeth, unlike other parts of your body, remain intact for a long period of time. The outer layer, tooth enamel, is harder than any other substance in your body. Since the likelihood of your teeth surviving a disaster is higher than other parts of your body, they are great at determining your identity. If teeth are exposed to extreme heat such as a fire, they may shrink and become extremely fragile but they can be preserved with lacquer. Preserving teeth allows forensic dentists to help solve difficult crimes as long as they handle the teeth delicately.

Dental information taken for identification gets used to match any available records on file. DNA evidence may also be extracted from the pulp in the centre of the tooth. Using an array of forensic methods to discover the person behind the teeth, forensic dentists may be the best investigator to reveal who did it.

Maybe you don’t have a crime to solve but want to find out more about your background. Your dentist can help you discover things you didn’t even know about yourself.

Next time you want to take a bite out of your oral mystery, ask your dentist!

Dr. Gurshant

Medically reviewed by Dr. Gurshant Grewal - a Registered Dentist on April 10th, 2019

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