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Forensic Dentistry

Marsha A. Voelker, CDA, RDH, MS

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A person interested in forensic odontology needs to become properly educated and trained.  A Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Medical Dentistry (DMD) degree is basic, but a traditional dental education does not provide the curriculum and experience that is required to function in this field.  There are also opportunities for other dental professionals in the field.45  Dental hygienists have become involved in dental forensics by volunteering their time with collecting the post-mortem information (radiographs, photos, dental charting, etc.) needed for proper identification of an individual.  They also have the opportunity to serve as dental assistants with DMORT.17  Currently, there are 35 dental hygienists serving with DMORT.

The American Academy of Forensic Science (AAFS) is the forum for forensic dental lectures, demonstrations and practical courses that are valuable educational experiences.45  The AAFS affiliated American Board of Forensic Odontology (ABFO) serves as the credentialing body for dentists who have satisfied experience and training requirements to sit for the challenging ABFO examination.46

The American Society of Forensic Odontology (ASFO) meets annually at the AAFS annual meeting.45  The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) offers week-long dental courses in odontology and pathology.45  The University of Texas Health Sciences Center, San Antonio provides an annual program and a forensic dentistry fellowship program.46  The New York Society of Forensic Dentistry and the New York County Dental Society offer introductory courses in Forensic Odontology.47  Basic courses in forensic science and medicolegal death investigation are strongly recommended, as specialized knowledge is necessary to participate in forensic investigations.45

A few dental schools offer an elective or practicum in dental forensics where dental students and dental hygiene students attend local meetings (i.e., Missouri Emergency Response Team (MERIT)),42 and have guest educators come in to speak about various topics regarding forensic dentistry and response to mass fatalities.  Some students have the opportunity to tour the local medical examiner's office and view autopsies or assist the forensic dentist in an identification case.  Also they may have the opportunity to visit the local crime scene investigation lab and meet a cadaver dog and trainer.

There are other avenues to receive further educational opportunities for dental professionals interested in dental forensics or mass fatality response teams by attending continuing education seminars or workshops.  There are week-long seminars focusing on medical examiner investigation or 2-3 week classes in crime scene investigation.  Those involved with DMORT receive annual training opportunities whether it is an online course or weekend training.  State and regional disaster teams are another source of education and involvement.

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