When someone is involved in an accident or foul play and their body is either missing or has not been identified, family members are often held captive in both a legal and emotional limbo. The family can't file for insurance benefits, the spouse can't remarry and the debts to the family keep piling up. Forensic dentistry or forensic odontology as it is formally called can help the victims' families both emotionally and financially.
Although the bulk of forensic odontology involves identifying accident or crime victims, some forensic dentists help in malpractice or insurance fraud cases. They often are asked to help investigate and testify in domestic violence, child abuse and assault cases. In addition, they may work with other health professionals to present educational programs on how to recognize patients who may be victims of crime or abuse and what to do when they see this kind of case.
Despite the fact that identifying the dead through dental remains can be documented as far back as 45-70 Ad in Rome, forensic odontology is not currently a recognized specialty in organized dentistry. However, in an effort to identify and network with experienced forensic specialists, standardize education, provide certification and keep abreast of technological advancements, the American Board of Forensic Odontology (ABFO) was established in 1976.
This kind of work can take a terrible emotional toll especially in those cases involving children. It can also be dangerous. According to Illinois forensic dentist, Dr. Edward Paulik, " In working with homicide cases, I have had a number of death threats. Some of the people who are novices are unaware that if they get called into a high profile homicide case or if they are testifying against … a gang or drug runners, they're testifying against people who may be revengeful…".
On the upside, the reward of providing emotional closure and financial relief to victims families and the ability to help victims of abuse and crimes are just a few of the reasons forensic dentists site for choosing to practice in this often unheard of area of dentistry.As Illinois dental news writer Tara McAndrew states, "In an ideal world there would be no need for forensic dentists," since that is obviously not the case we are grateful to those people who choose to help these victims and their families reclaim their lives.