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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2016  |  Volume : 1  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 2-3

Forensic odontology: A historic review

1 Department of Oral Medicine and Radiology, Saveetha Dental College, Chennai, India
2 Department of Oral Medicine and Radiology, Vivekananda Dental College for Women, Tiruchengode, Namakkal, Tamil Nadu, India

Date of Web Publication7-Jul-2016

Correspondence Address:
Laliytha Bijai Kumar
Department of Oral Medicine and Radiology, Saveetha Dental College, Chennai
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/2542-5013.185690

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Forensic odontology has played a major role in identification of persons in crime scenes, mass disasters, fire victims, abuse, and accidents. The various methods employed in forensic odontology include rugoscopy, cheiloscopy, photographic study, radiographs, and molecular methods. Despite the shortcomings, methods applied in forensic odontology are quite reliable. This paper is a review on the historical highlights of forensic odontology.

Keywords: Bite marks, cheiloscopy, forensic odontology, rugoscopy

How to cite this article:
Kumar LB, Shivakumar S. Forensic odontology: A historic review. Int J Forensic Odontol 2016;1:2-3

How to cite this URL:
Kumar LB, Shivakumar S. Forensic odontology: A historic review. Int J Forensic Odontol [serial online] 2016 [cited 2023 Dec 7];1:2-3. Available from: https://www.ijofo.org/text.asp?2016/1/1/2/185690

  Introduction Top

Forensic odontology can be defined as a branch of dentistry which deals with the appropriate handling and examination of dental evidence and with the proper evaluation and presentation of dental findings in the interest of justice. It is concerned with the application of science and technology in human identification, requiring the coordinated efforts of a multidisciplinary team. It is of great significance in the court of law. This paper is a review on historical landmarks in forensic odontology.

The first reported case of dental identification was that of an 80-year-old English warrior John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, who fell in the battle of Castillon in 1453. [1] According to Keiser-Nielsen, forensic dentistry is defined as the "proper handling and examination of the dental evidence, in the interests of justice, so that the dental finding may be properly presented and evaluated. [2]

  Applications of Forensic Odontology Top

  • Evaluation of injuries to jaws, teeth, and oral soft tissue
  • Identification of individuals in crime scenes and/or mass disasters
  • Identification and evaluation of bite marks which occur with some frequency in sexual assaults, child abuse, and personal defense situations
  • Age estimation. [3]


Palatal rugoscopy or palatoscopy is the study of palatal rugae to establish a person's identity. [4] They are also called "plicapalatinae" or "rugae palatine." According to the glossary of prosthodontic terms, rugae are anatomical folds or wrinkles (usually used in the plural sense); the irregular fibrous connective tissue located on the anterior third of the palate. [5]


Cheiloscopy (quiloscopy) can be defined as a method of identification of a person based on characteristic arrangement of lines appearing on the red part of lips or as a science dealing with lines appearing on the red part of lips. [6]

The word cheiloscopy is derived from Greek cheilos means lips, skopein means see. It is applicable in identifying the living as it is usually left at crime scenes and may provide a direct clue to the suspect. Santos was the first person to classify lip grooves. [7]

  Bite Marks in Forensic Dentistry Top

ABFO defines bite-marks as "a pattern left in an object or tissue by the dental structures of an animal or human." [8]

Bite marks often appear as round or elliptical areas of contusion or abrasion, occasionally with associated indentations. Despite the good number of cases in which bite mark evidence has been critical to the conviction or exoneration of criminal defendants, there is continuing dispute over its interpretation and analysis. [9]

For bites on human skin, a potential bite injury must be recognized early as the clarity of the mark may change in a short time span in both living and dead victims.

  Photographic Superimposition Top

When examining whether a denture left at an investigation scene belongs to an unknown set of skeletal remains is more difficult. To establish an identity between a complete denture and a skull is difficult as the morphological characteristics of the denture base have to be compared with those of the surfaces of the jawbones, which cannot be viewed from the outside. In such cases, superimposition and X-ray computed tomography are effective for establishing proof of identity. [10]

  DNA Analysis Top

With the advent of polymerase chain reaction, amplification of DNA is possible at preselected and in specific sites. This biological material may provide the necessary link to prove identity when conventional dental identification methods fail. [11]

Comparison of DNA preserved in and extracted from the teeth of an unidentified individual can be made to a known antemortem sample or to a parent or sibling. [12]

[Table 1] summarizes the historic breakthroughs in forensic odontology.
Table 1: The historic breakthroughs in forensic odontology

Click here to view

At present, personal identification is made by analyzing the DNA profile of deceased persons with that of their relatives DNA profile. However, this procedure is sophisticated and requires a long time and has limited availability. Hence, conventional methods may be followed.

Thus, to conclude, personal identification is very much necessary for unknown deceased person in suicide, homicide, accident, and mass disasters. Forensic odontology plays an important role in medicolegal investigations in mass disasters, accidents, murder cases, and assaults. Dental professionals have an important role in maintaining dental records and providing all necessary information so that legal authorities may identify unknown humans.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

None declared.

  References Top

Swanson HA. Forensic dentistry. J Am Coll Dent 1967;34:174-80.  Back to cited text no. 1
Keiser-Nielsen SA. Editorial, News Letter. Scand Soc For Odont 1967;1:4.  Back to cited text no. 2
Stimson PG, Mertz CA. Forensic Dentistry. New York: CRC Press; 1997. p. 1-45.  Back to cited text no. 3
Gilbert Calabuig JA. Medicina Legal y Toxicologia. 5 th ed. SA, Barcelona: Masson; 1998. p. 1152-63.  Back to cited text no. 4
The academy of prosthodontics. The glossary of prosthodontic terms 8 th ed. (GPT-8). J Prosthet Den 2005;94:46.  Back to cited text no. 5
Kasprzak J. Possibilities of cheiloscopy. Forensic Sci Int 1990;46:145-51.  Back to cited text no. 6
Santos M. Cheiloscopy: A supplementary stomatological means of identification. Braz Int Microform J Legal Med 1967;1:66.  Back to cited text no. 7
Bailoor DN, Nagesh KS. Fundamentals of Oral Medicine and Radiology. 1 st ed. New Delhi: Jaypee Brother′s Medical Publishers; 2005. p. 333-42.  Back to cited text no. 8
Rothwell BR. Bite marks in forensic dentistry: A review of legal, scientific issues. J Am Dent Assoc 1995;126:223-32.  Back to cited text no. 9
Minaguchi K, Hanaoka Y, Kiriyama T, Yamamoto K, Kuroyanagi K. Personal identification of a skull by a complete denture - Application of superimposition and X-ray computed tomography analysis. Nihon Hoigaku Zasshi 1994;48:282-8.  Back to cited text no. 10
Sweet D, Hildebrand D. Recovery of DNA from human teeth by cryogenic grinding. J Forensic Sci 1998;43:1199-202.  Back to cited text no. 11
Sweet D, DiZinno JA. Personal identification through dental evidence - Tooth fragments to DNA. J Calif Dent Assoc 1996;24:35-42.  Back to cited text no. 12


  [Table 1]


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