Dental age assessment is a valuable asset that forensic odontology can provide when issues arise regarding the legal age of an individual. For most of the United States, the legal age is 18 years. Determining whether an individual is equal to or greater than 18 years of age is important to law enforcement as well as the courts.
Over the years, there have been many attempts to design methods to accurately predict if an individual has or has not attained the legal age. One study from 1993 by Mincer, Harris and Berryman11 used data collected from eight defined stages of development of the mandibular third molars from persons of known age, which established a database for comparison to persons of unknown age. When the mandibular third molars were assigned to one of the eight developmental stages, an approximate age range could be established.
Other studies were designed to include more than just the developing human dentition. A 1990 study12 from Bogota, Colombia collected medical, dental and radiographic data from the third molars, hand and wrist bones, the cranium, as well as gender and pubertal development. In doing so an approximate age of majority in Colombia could be established with a 75% reliability. This landmark study was important because a significant part of the Colombian population is born with no documented birth certificate.
Age estimation expanded beyond the third molars to include information on ancestry, nationality and gender in a freeware computer-applied data driven program called UT-AGE13 developed by Lewis, Senn and Silvaggi (Figure 20). The use of the computer helps prevent inadvertent errors in the mathematical calculations used in the assessment of age.14
Dental age assessment is most useful in matters involving proof of identity, and, by association, age in criminal cases, immigration matters, paternity and custodial issues among other possible applications. The UT Age program accurately predicts age with a 95% reliability within 2 standard deviations of the estimated age. The program is a huge asset to law enforcement.