Forensic dentistry – FOCUS ON



Q: What is Forensic Dentistry?

A: Its basic definition is the scientific application of dental knowledge to criminal and civil law issues. We are often involved in 4 main categories of cases: identification, age assessment, civil litigation and bite analysis. Most of our work typically consists of scientific identification in cases where human remains are not identifiable by other methods such as visuals or fingerprints.

Q: What does it take to be involved in forensic odontology?

A: Basically, all you need is a dentist, hygienist, or assistant with a will and stomach to deal with human remains in varying degrees of decomposition or trauma. Many states have forensic identification teams that can be called when a mass disaster occurs. They are made up of volunteer dentists and auxiliaries who can commit time to a specific location and help with the identification process. Only dentists can make the final comparison. However, many auxiliaries are very vital to the team and are often much better at taking x-rays than the dentist!

Q: How much forensic dentistry work is there?

A: The majority of dental professionals involved in forensic odontology work as volunteers on state identification teams or on a case-by-case basis for medical examiners and coroners. Very few dental professionals can say that they work full time or earn a significant income from cases.

Q: How do I get training in forensic dentistry?

A: To get started, check with your forensic identification team and dental company about any training courses they might take. Sometimes you can find forensic presentations at ADA and other dental meetings. The American Society of Forensic Odontologists (ASFO [asfo.org]) is also a great starting point. ASFO has an annual meeting that coincides with the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS [aafs.org]) annual conference, and any dental professional can join for a small fee. ASFO also has online resources. You can buy the ASFO Handbook of Forensic Odontology, which contains a wealth of information for anyone interested in learning more about forensic dentistry. When you’re ready to take your training to the next level, there are more advanced training opportunities with the University of Detroit Mercy, Lincoln Memorial University, and McGill University. For dentists, after undergoing additional training and significant involvement in cases, they can then become board-certified forensic odontologists by challenging advice with the American Board of Forensic Odontology (ABFO [abfo.org]).

Q: How long does it take to become board certified?

A: If being a forensic odontologist is for you, it will take significant dedication, expense, and time to become board certified. To defy advice with the ABFO you will need to be formally affiliated with a medical/legal agency and have handled a minimum of 32 forensic dental cases ranging from bite analysis to dental age assessment and have attended a minimum of 4 forensic meetings (e.g. AAFS, ASFO) and participated (as presenter, moderator, etc.) in a minimum of 2. In total, the minimum time is usually around 5 years, with most applicants taking between 5 and 10 years. A full description of the requirements is available on the ABFO website.

Q: How do I get in touch with an agency?

A: This can be one of the hardest things to accomplish! Joining your state team and groups such as AAFS and ASFO is a good start; however, to obtain the required forensic cases, you will need to be affiliated with a medical examiner or coroner. Most forensic offices will already have a forensic odontologist for their cases. As mentioned earlier, there are usually not many cases. The best plan is to find out who the forensic odontologist at your local forensic office is and ask them to be your mentor. If he or she agrees, you can start building your case history and learn along the way.

Q: What’s the hardest part of being a forensic dentist?

A: One of the first things I discuss with anyone who wants to get involved in forensic dentistry is the type of cases we see. Not everyone has the courage to see human remains, especially after significant trauma, fire, or decomposition. Additionally, whenever children are involved, it can be particularly difficult to remain emotionally separated. For me, I enjoy focusing on the work we do, helping provide identification to an unknown person, providing resolution or answers to a grieving family, or being a voice for victims of abuse and violence. who no longer have a voice.

All in all, being a board certified forensic odontologist is very challenging but also very rewarding at the same time. It’s not for everyone; However, if you choose to join this relatively small group, you will find interesting and exciting ways to use your dental knowledge and skills beyond day-to-day dentistry in your practice!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr Draft earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at Hope College, then attended the University of Michigan School of Dentistry and graduated in 1998. In 2018, he became an American Board of Forensic Certified Forensic Odontologist Odontology. He uses his dental skills to identify human remains, provide dental age estimates, and provide analysis of bite evidence. Dr. Draft is the Chief Forensic Odontologist for the Kalamazoo County Medical Examiner and also provides forensic services to the Forensic Science and Forensic Laboratory (LSJML) in Montreal. He has been practicing dentistry in Grandville, Michigan for nearly 25 years and now also practices in Montreal with his wife, Dr. Corinne D’Anjou. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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