Written by Atika Ashar

  • Thesis Title: Individuality of the Human Dentition: Implications for Forensic Odontology
  • Author: Atika Ashar
  • To be submitted as a requirement for: Master of Science in Dentistry (completion 2011)
  • Date: November 2009

Abstract: Forensic identification of deceased bodies, missing persons and criminals can be achieved using teeth, along with other scientific methods or when other scientific methods are not possible. The identification process relies on the comparison of information gathered from known records to the questioned identity. This concept of forensic identification has long been accepted. However, current court requirement may encourage forensic experts to revisit the reasoning behind conclusive findings. It is proposed that expert should provide quantitative and a more objective substantiation for an identification.

It is the time when courts will challenge forensic identification protocol to provide a high statistical probability to reach an empirical conclusion. One of the challenges that experts are facing is to provide statistical evidence that bears weight in legal proceedings. For example, a court judge may want to know the probability of two individuals having the same dental pattern in order to ascertain the identification process. This input has been practiced by experts in the DNA field. We wonder however whether experts in dental identification will be able to provide the same statistical approach.

Research on the statistical probability of human dentition individuality is lacking although some research appears to be moving in the right direction. A sound research approach which is in line with today’s scientific and legal requirements needs to be designed to surpass older findings. Argument on the issue of individualization pointed out an obvious obstacle when tackling this issue, which is that it is impossible to study each and every individual in the world. Therefore, it is proposed that twin models are useful to study the variability of human teeth because twins share the same genes and have very similar dentitions. The differences observed between the dentitions of monozygotic (MZ) co-twins reflect the influence of epigenetic and environmental factors.

This proposed research will focus on the development of probabilistic models based on characteristics observed on human teeth. By using mathematical approach and appropriate computer software, the findings from this current research should add to our understanding of the individuality of the human dentition and improve the acceptance of dental patterns as a means of identification.