As we enter a new millennium, society is faced with fresh challenges in every conceivable area. Despite leaps in modern technology, medical breakthroughs and the geographical changes that the last century has brought, crime still persists in all aspects of our lives. Violent and heinous activities that shatter the lives of victims, friends and families occur everyday. The apprehension and subsequent prosecution of the perpetrator(s) is essential to maintain law and order. Through the specialty of forensic odontology, dentistry plays a small but significant role in this process. By identifying the victims of crime and disaster through dental records, dentists assist those involved in crime investigation.
The most common role of the forensic dentist is the identification of deceased individuals. Dental identification takes two main forms. Firstly, the most frequently performed examination is a comparative identification that is used to establish (to a high degree of certainty) that the remains of a decedent and a person represented by antemortem (before death) dental records are the same individual. Information from the body or circumstances usually contains clues as to who has died. Secondly, in those cases where antemortem records are not available, and no clues to the possible identity exist, a postmortem (after death) dental profile is completed by the forensic dentist suggesting characteristics of the individual likely to narrow the search for the antemortem materials.
Dental identification of humans occurs for a number of different reasons and in a number of different situations. The bodies of victims of violent crimes,, fires, motor vehicle accidents and work place accidents, can be disfigured to such an extent that identification by a family member is neither reliable nor desirable. Persons who have been deceased for some time prior to discovery and those found in water also present unpleasant and difficult visual identifications. Dental identifications have always played a key role in natural and manmade disaster situations and in particular the mass casualties normally associated with aviation disasters.