Odontology refers to the handling, investigation, and analysis of dental evidence in a bid to identify unique characteristics about the deceased (Leung, 2008). The information derived from such an analysis includes the age of the individual (in the case of children) as well as the identification of the individual whose teeth are being examined.
Odontologists are usually called upon by law enforcement agencies when the human remains found in a crime scene cannot be identified through fingerprints or facial recognition (Verma, Kumar Rathore, & Pandey 2014). They are also crucial in determining the source of injuries incurred through bite marks in assault cases or in situations where abuse is suspected. Other functions of Odontologists include providing evidence in cases involving dental malpractice and determining the age of skeletal remains.
Odontology also plays a crucial part in facial reconstruction of the deceased. Facial reconstruction involves building a composite of what an individual may have looked like while alive so as to identify the individual (Stavrianos, Kokkas, Andreopoulos, & Eliades, 2010).. Odontologists are usually called upon to aid in facial reconstruction when the post mortem profile does not tentatively reveal the identity of the deceased. In such scenarios, the Odontologists use ante mortem photographs of teeth fractures, the mandible, and other dentitions to create a sculpture of the individual’s facial features based on the available facial skeletal remains.
Three main cells make up bone, namely, osteoclasts, osteoblasts, and osteocytes. The osteoclasts are large cells responsible for destroying the bone. They originate from the bone marrow and have more than one nucleus. They have multiple nuclei because they are formed from several cells fusing together.
The osteoblasts are responsible for the formation of new bone. They work in teams to build new bone, consisting of collagen and other protein. They also control the levels of calcium and mineral deposit in the new bone when they get old. At this stage, they are known as lining cells and regulate the movement of calcium in and out of the osteoid. The osteocytes are inside the bone and originate from the osteoblasts. Their main purpose is to sense pressure and cracks in the bone and direct osteoclasts to dissolve that part of the bone.
The skeleton takes the longest time to decay and it is imperative in the study of the age or growth stage of the deceased. There are several indicators in the skeleton that can help determine the approximate age of the individual at the time of death. For instance, younger individuals have more bones than adults do, i.e. children have more than 206 bones. Therefore, the number of bones can help determine whether the victim was a child or an adult at the time of death (Rissech, Marcuez-Grant, & Turbon, 2012). The presence of particular ossification centers can significantly narrow down the age of a younger individual. In addition, the epiphyseal fusion of the bones can help indicate the age of the deceased when it comes to older victims.
It is believed that there are twenty-two bones in the human skull, fourteen in the facial skeleton and eight in the cranium (Li, Ruan, Xie, Wang, & Liu, 2007). The cranial bones are generally supposed to protect the brain as well as to support and protect the sensory organs including the eyes, nose, mouth, and ears. The inner surfaces of the cranial bones are attached to membranes that stabilize blood vessels, nerves, and the brain. The outer surfaces provide platforms for attachment for muscles that help the head move in various directions. The facial bones provide a mechanical framework for the face, support entry points for the respiratory and digestive systems, support sensory organs, and provide an attachment for the muscles responsible for facial expressions.
The muscles in the face are responsible for all the facial expressions a person makes including blinking and the movement of the eyes. They are also in charge of moving the jaw and the mouth while chewing, talking, or yawning. The major facial muscles include the orbicularis oculi, corrugator, procerus, occipitalis, occipitofrontalis, depressor anguli oris, temporoparietalis muscle, nasalis, depressor septi nasi, auricular, risorius, buccinators, levator anguli oris, levator labii superioris, mentalis, zygomaticus major and minor, and the depressor labii inferioris.
From the muscles, forensic scientists can gleam the handedness of the individual as well as whether he exercised often or not. An examination of the muscle attachment points on the hands and forearms can point to which hand the person used most. The muscle attachment point is usually strengthened through exercise. The hand that is used most often would have a heavier musculature than the other hand indicating that he was a left or right handed person.
Leung, C.K. (2008). Forensic Odontology. Dental Bulletin 13(11): 16-20.
Li, H. Ruan J., Xie, Z., Wang H., &Liu, W. (2007). Investigation of the Critical Geometric Characteristics of Living Human Skulls Utilizing Medical Image Analysis Techniques. International Journal of Vehicle Safety, 2 (4).
Rissech, C., Marquez-Grant, N., & Turbon, D. (2012). A Collation of Recently Published Western European Formulae for Age Estimation of Sub Adult Skeletal Remains: Recommendations for Forensic Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 58 (s1).
Stavrianos C., Kokkas A., Andreopoulos, E. & Eliades, A. (2010). Applications of Forensic Dentistry: Part-I. Research Journal of Medical Sciences, 4(3):179-186.
Verma, A.K., Kumar, S., Rathore, S., & Pandey, A. (2014). Role of Dental Expert in Forensic Odontology. National Journal of Maxillofacial Surgery, 5 (1): 2-5.