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Dental detectives

September 12, 2012 2:46:39 PM PDT
When you think of crime solving, you probably don't think of dentists as detectives, but in some investigations, they do indeed provide their expertise.

It's called forensic dentistry.

You show them off when you smile, but a person's teeth can also play a big role at the scene of a crime. Similar to fingerprints, everyone's teeth markings are different

For example, a bite mark on a victim can provide evidence needed to solve a case.

"Tooth bite marks are very characteristic of the arch of the teeth, the alignment, height, how long the tooth is, how wide the tooth is," Dr. Mark Wolff, New York University College of Dentistry, said.

Dr. Mark Wolff is a forensic dental expert at New York University College of Dentistry. With the help of a student, he used an apple to illustrate.

"So we can see this arch and look at nuances of teeth. It's in looking at the subtle difference we can see if someone was or wasn't involved in the biting of an apple," Wolff said.

Or the biting of a crime victim.

"And the same would go if we saw the bite on a hand arm...things like that," he said.

Forensic dentists also rely on dental x-rays for identification purposes. The images can highlight the uniqueness of a victim's teeth. A single tooth can help to i-d someone who has died in a disaster.

"You can remove the tooth, from that scene and actually look in and take that tissue, and use it for DNA testing," Wolff said.

Another forensic tool is the scanning electron microscope that examines a tooth's surface. If teeth have been injured in any way in an attack, the scanner can be used to detect microscopic damage, giving clues as to how the injury may have happened.

"Chips can be very identifiable of a particular tooth, to a particular wound. It can show us how a tooth was worn, how it was injured," Wolff explained.

All going to prove even the best detective work sometimes needs the help of dental science.

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