what is forensic odontology?


Forensic odontology is a specialist branch of dentistry, concerned with the application of dental techniques to attempt to answer medico-legal questions, including;

  • identification of the deceased
  • estimation of the age of the deceased at death
  • examination of possible bitemarks on a victim (alive or dead)
  • examination of the dentition of a person (or animal) suspected of inflicting a bitemark


forensic odontology and identification


Forensic odontologists work closely with forensic pathologists and anthropologists - their expertise is particularly beneficial in identifying a victim, whose body is decomposed or burned, precluding visual identification.

Mass-disasters present particular challenges for death investigators, and forensic odontologists are usually incorporated into the team of experts charged with identification of victims. 

Transportation incidents, such as plane crashes may be slightly more 'straight forward' in that there is usually a passenger list with which to compare identifying characteristics with; events such as the World Trade Centre attacks of September 11th 2001 represent a greater challenge, not least because of the large number of individuals involved, but also because of the inability to accurately determine who was likely to have been there at the time of the attacks.


tooth development and age at death assessment in juveniles


The pattern of tooth eruption and development can sometimes assist in the development of a biological profile (specifically an 'age at death' assessment) when unidentified remains are found, and where those remains are of a juvenile. The forensic dentist can utilise dental x-rays, and compare the appearances with eruption and development charts, such as the one illustrated below, and more detailed charts (e.g. the one created by AlQahtani).

tooth eruption/ development chart

Source: Cute Baby Blog


See also the larger atlas of tooth development and eruption developed by Dr Sakher AlQahtani of Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry.



The action of biting an object or substance results in the formation of a bitemark, the characteristics of which can, in theory, be compared to the dentition of an individual, in order to determine whether that individual created that mark. 

This process of comparison is, however, subjective, and involves a process of identifying certain characteristics in the mark/ injury, and superimposing the suspects dentition characteristics (e.g. from an impression of their teeth) on that suspected bitemark. The accuracy of such techniques is prone to errors at several stages, and may be vigorously challenged in court.


Source: Institute of Forensic Medicine, University of Bern at NLM Visible Proofs exhibition



forensic odontology - bitemarks on Pinterest


Follow Richard's board Forensic odontology - bitemarks on Pinterest.

Forensic Odontology: an essential guide (2014)


Buy this introductory text here, or preview it at Google Books ...



Dental autopsy (2009)

Buy it here

At Google Books here


Forensic dentistry (1997)

Buy it here

At Google Books here

special edition of Forensic Science International

A special forensic odontology issue of Forensic Science International (in association with the International Organisation of Forensic Odonto-stomatology) details current thinking on human identification, (including Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) protocoils) and bitemark analysis.

Forensic Science International 2010; 201(1-3):1-164

Search site

© 2020 www.forensicmed.co.uk All rights reserved.

Powered by Webnode