Dental comparison of antemortem (before death ) and postmortem (after death) records provides one of the best avenues for establishing personal identification in the forensic sciences. Ideally, dentists work with antemortem dental x-rays since these provide a sort of "photographic" image of a known person at a specific point in time. These x-rays can be compared with dental x-rays taken from an unidentified set of remains in order to determine a match or exclusion. Commonly, the sizes and shapes of fillings present in the teeth can be matched to establish a "positive identification." Unfortunately, these antemortem x-rays are not always available and dental comparisons must be completed based only on written notes and charts obtained from a missing individual's medical records. A computer program developed at the Central Identification Lab (CIL), called OdontoSearch 2.0, creates a means of using these charts and notes (in the absence of x-rays) for identification purposes.
The problem with dental treatment charts and notes is that, unlike x-rays, the information cannot be shown to be exclusively correlated to a specific individual. For example, several people may have the same teeth filled or extracted and their treatment notes would be the same. In the past, the strength of a match between a missing person's dental treatment records and the treatment observed on an unidentified set of remains has been based on the clinical experience of the dentist (different dentists may come to very different conclusions). The OdontoSearch 2.0 computer program developed at the CIL provides an objective means of assessing the frequency of occurrence for dental treatment. The program works by comparing an individual's pattern of missing, filled, and unrestored teeth to a large, representative sample of the U.S. population. The methodology and rationale behind the OdontoSearch 2.0 program is very similar to the procedures that have been established for mitochondrial DNA comparisons.
Two important points need to be recognized about the OdontoSearch 2.0 program:
1) The OdontoSearch 2.0 program is not a means to select a specific person from a database of missing individuals. In actuality, the OdontoSearch 2.0 database is composed of individuals who voluntarily participated in dental health studies. The goal of the OdontoSearch 2.0 database is only to provide a representative sample of the dental treatment of the adult U.S. population.
2) A possible dental association must be established between a specific individual and an unidentified set of remains for the results of OdontoSearch 2.0 to be meaningful. In other words, determining that an unidentified set of remains exhibits an extremely rare dental pattern is worthless unless there is some prior correlation to a missing individual. OdontoSearch 2.0 simply provides a statistical value that quantifies the strength of the observed dental pattern with an unidentified individual.
With the OdontoSearch 2.0 program, uncommon dental patterns can be recognized as such, and a frequency value can be associated with the pattern. In many instances these results may be counterintuitive since the presence of only a few "common" fillings may create a very rare dental pattern when all of the teeth are considered. For example, with OdontoSearch 2.0 it would be possible to determine that out of a comparison with 40,108 individuals, a specific dental pattern was observed only 48 times, or about 1 out of 833 people would be expected to have this specific pattern. The fact that a match of this dental pattern was found between a missing individual's records and an unidentified set of remains is convincing evidence for an association. The OdontoSearch 2.0 results are used along with other analytical information (e.g., skeletal analysis, personal effects, geographic area, etc.) in order to build a convincing identification to a specific individual.
This program allows for any number of teeth from 1 to 28 (excludes third molars) to be entered, which allows for cases involving postmortem loss. All questions and comments would be appreciated and can be submitted to JPAC Public Affairs.
If you have access to large samples of dental data (modern or historic), or if you know someone who does, please contact the JPAC Public Affairs. The information could potentially be integrated into a future edition of the program. Input is greatly appreciated!
Read articles from the Journal of Forensic Sciences, Vol. 48, No. 3."Establishing Personal Identification Based on Specific Patterns Of Missing, Filled, And Unrestored Teeth"
"The Diversity of Adult Dental Patterns in the United States and the Implicationsfor Personal Identification"
These articles are made available with permission from the Journal of Forensic Sciences, Vol. 48, No. 3, copyright ASTM International, 100 Barr Harbor Drive, West Conshohcken, PA 19428.
Questions regarding the website interface should be directed to JPAC Public Affairs.
OdontoSearch version 2.0
Research and Program Design: B.J. Adams, C.K. Shigeta, A.C. Drogosch, and R.W. Schumann
Date of Release: March 2007
Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command
Central Identification Laboratory
OdontoSearch 2.0 is made available to the public by the JPAC Central Identification Laboratory (CIL). The CIL does not take responsibility for statistical inferences drawn by users of the program. All are encouraged to understand the strengths and limitations of the program prior to its usage.
A detailed search will allow you to enter the type of restoration on the corresponding tooth; a generic search will allow you to only enter which tooth had the restoration.
Questions should be directed to the Contact Us page.