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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2021  |  Volume : 15  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 47-50

Forensic odontology: An inseparable aspect of military dentistry

1 Division of Oral Pathology, Army Dental Centre (R&R), New Delhi, India
2 Commanding Officer, MDC Wellington, New Delhi, India

Date of Submission29-Jun-2020
Date of Acceptance18-Sep-2020
Date of Web Publication09-Mar-2021

Correspondence Address:
Sudip Indu
Division of Oral Pathology, Army Dental Centre (R&R), New Delhi
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/JODD.JODD_47_20

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Forensic odontology is a subdiscipline of dental science which involves a multidisciplinary approach for handling forensic dental evidence and presents it to the Court of Law. Its application to the Armed Forces is also vital, considering the varied role assigned to them. Military personnel are exposed to multiple eventualities such as fatality or captivity where the recognition or confirmation of their identity is absolutely critical. Dental features and their innumerable combinations can be unique to an individual, and the same can be utilized as a postmortem profile to compare to an antemortem dental database if it exists. It is imperative for the Armed Forces to make robust arrangements in terms of infrastructure and technical expertise such that this branch of dentistry can be utilized to its full potential. Establishing a dedicated forensic odontology laboratory will be a step in the right direction.

Keywords: Ante- and post-mortem data, forensic odontology laboratory, military personnel

How to cite this article:
Indu S, Cheema VS, Jayan B, Mitra R, Chaudhary D. Forensic odontology: An inseparable aspect of military dentistry. J Dent Def Sect. 2021;15:47-50

How to cite this URL:
Indu S, Cheema VS, Jayan B, Mitra R, Chaudhary D. Forensic odontology: An inseparable aspect of military dentistry. J Dent Def Sect. [serial online] 2021 [cited 2021 Apr 18];15:47-50. Available from: http://www.journaldds.org/text.asp?2021/15/1/47/310963

  Introduction Top

The most suitable definition of forensic odontology (FO) according to Brig. D. V. Taylor (1968) is “The application of dental knowledge to the elucidation of legal problems.” However, in 1980, Keiser–Nielson further modified the definition as “The branch of forensic medicine which in the interest of justice deals with the proper handling and examination of dental evidence and with the proper evaluation and presentation of the dental findings.”[1]

The oldest instance of dental records when used for forensic identification dates back to the year 66 AD, in which Nero's mistress, Sabina had recognized the head that was brought to her as Nero's wife only by identifying the black anterior tooth.[2] Positive identification of an unclaimed body or a disaster victim through the comparison of postmortem dental records with that of antemortem records if preserved with the treating dental surgeon of an individual is the primary way by which forensic odontologists can assist in victim identification.

Teeth are generally known to resist extreme forces and temperatures and can survive in variable conditions encountered at death or during the decomposition of the human body.[3] Disaster victim identification (DVI), age estimation, and sex determination can all be crucial aspects, during investigation involving accidents which can transpire during the conduct of any secret military missions/exercises, which will ensure successful completion or continuity of the same. The process will narrow down the search within the missing persons' files and enables a more well-organized approach in such scenario.

Forensic dentistry specializes in several areas that include dental records as legal document, radiographic examination, age estimation, sex determination, anthropological examination, mass disaster identification, and bite mark evidence.

The mass forensic identification by dentition was first used in Paris, in the aftermath of the fire of the bazaar de la Charité in 1897.[4] Significance of FO and its development over the years in the world and in India has resulted in identifying culprits in a number of famous cases of murder, guilty verdict, and death penalty. The discovery of the badly burned bodies of Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun by the Russian troops on May 1, 1945, and the subsequent identification of remains was done solely based on the dental evidence that was identified by Dr. Hugo Johannes Blaschke who was Hitler's dentist, and from his records, it was found that the evidence of frontal sinus X-rays can be as unique as figure prints.[5]

FO has been incorporated in the armed forces of many developed nation including the United States, Canada, Russia, and Australia. An institute run by the United States named the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology has officially introduced courses in the field of forensic dentistry.

  The Current Scenario in India Top

In India, FO is an upcoming branch of dentistry that has a great scope of development. It has been introduced in the syllabus for Bachelor of Dental Surgery by the Dental Council of India. Many national and international societies have been registered and working in India and are actively participating for the promotion of this field such as the Indian Association of Forensic Odontology (IAFO) and Indo Pacific Academy of Forensic Odontology (INPAFO), which have been recently established with their headquarters in India.[6]

In the history of criminal prosecution in India, first time, ever death sentence was given to the accused in which dental forensics had played a vital role in providing evidence. It was the Delhi gang rape case where the forensic odontologist linked the dentition of the two accused to the bite marks on the victim evidence in the infamous Nirbhaya gang rape case of 2012 and confirmation of juvenility of Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, the lone survivor of Mumbai terror attacks of 26/11.

  Role of Forensic Odontology in the Armed Forces Top

From the World War-I in 1912 to Kargil War in 1999, Indian armed forces have been actively involved in guarding our nation against the external enemy and also have played a vital role during natural calamities and disaster relief.[7] During such eventualities, there can be multiple fatalities of military personnel or they can also be held in captivity as Prisoners of War. In all such instances, establishing the identity of an unidentified body can become extremely crucial. FO has great potential in the identification of the deceased soldiers. Every soldier who joins the defense forces undergoes a thorough medical examination before the commencement of his/her services. A series of medical tests are performed, and samples are collected to keep a detailed record of the soldier in the database for any future referral. To identify a body that has been disfigured or decomposed, medical records such as DNA samples, fingerprint records, and the dental records of the soldiers are also recorded, preserved, digitized, and updated on a regular basis, it may prove beneficial in identifying the bodies even after a lag of time.

Dental record will be a collection of features that are recorded including dental abnormalities, dentition status, and any important recordable findings.[8]

Dental records can be useful in the following ways:

  1. Dental charting can be saved as antemortem dental records in the dedicated software at the time of initial medical examination and subsequently updated at each annual medical examination of the soldier's routine yearly protocol.[9] Details of filling, crown, and RCT are endorsed and recorded. The records are updated each time; some dental treatment has been carried out of every soldier
  2. Orthopantomogram (OPG) of every armed forces personnel should be recorded and updated on a regular basis.[6] The dentition of every person is unique, i.e., it is different for every person. In case of remote areas where OPG is not possible, full-mouth intraoral periapical radiograph should be taken, arranged in the form of OPG, and digitized to have a digital record of each individual that can be taken using a portable X-ray unit. These records should be updated from time to time, to have the latest available dental records of an individual
  3. Impressions of the dental arches of army personnel should be taken and castes should be prepared and preserved for an antemortem data base. The same methodology can be followed for structuring a postmortem profile. The comparison of the antemortem with one postmortem set of data will be a simple procedure.

Dental records are easily available in developed countries, especially in the UK where a protocol is being followed under the National Health Service and UK Dentistry to ensure that the records are updated adequately.[10]

In India, there are various associations such as the IAFO and INPAFO who are working for the betterment of the subject. In addition, the IAFO has started the National Registry of Forensic Odontology in which the association had urged the dental institutes and dentists practicing across India to update the dental records from time to time so that a database can be maintained pan-India.[11] However, until now, this initiative is getting a very poor response which may partly be due to lack of government involvement.

  Establishment of Forensic Odontology Laboratory Top

The importance of FO in Armed Forces is indisputable. However, the necessary skill and infrastructure are severely lacking. Although any dental officer must be capable of playing a role in FO, regulations, guidelines, and necessary training to apply in the present scenario are lacking. The subject of FO is extensively deliberated upon in the postgraduate curriculum of oral pathology and microbiology. Oral pathologists can play a leading role in establishing a forensic laboratory and formulate guidelines for various aspects of its regular functioning. The FO laboratory will require the necessary infrastructure, technical support, comprehensive routinely updated dental data processing systems, which in the present scenario would require a confluence of specialists; thus, the role of oral pathologist will be pivotal.[12]

A complete overhaul of our dental record keeping process in the laboratory will be an absolutely essential phenomenon with respect to various stages of the soldier's service routine schedule, viz., recruitment, occurrence of dental morbidity, annual and periodic examinations, and special conditions, such as before deployment to specific areas and regions for secret military missions.[13] The details of such projects would need to be extensively deliberated and elaborated upon; however, on an initial trail basis, dental centers could start hard tissue documentation procedures using routine radiographs such as the OPGs, for all the troops under the dental cover.

The dedicated FO laboratory will ensure an ideal platform for any budding or senior dental officer to acquaint himself/herself with various modalities of FO.

  Conclusion Top

Off late, it has been noticed that the Indian Judicial System has been slowly but surely started to take into account the specialist services of forensic odontologist while handling criminal cases like the infamous Nirbhaya gang rape case; however, it is unfortunate that still a qualified forensic odontologist is yet to be employed or nominated as an active team member of a disaster management team, who are likely to be called upon in cases of mass casualty.[14] In such a scenario, dental officers in the armed forces can be readymade, straightforward, and competent team members of any such relief force as we can be deployed and activated at the shortest possible notice, react in the most proficient manner, understand the power of command and control, and are able to follow instructions and understand our vital role in a DVI process.[15] Further, a dedicated FO laboratory will be an asset not only for the Armed Forces but also inspire curious minds in the whole of dental community and serve as an ideal platform for government officials and decision-makers to acquaint them with the significance of this upcoming branch of FO.

In conclusion, dental officers of the Armed Forces can play a pivotal role in victim identification not only during a war scenario but also during flood relief, air craft accidents, mass casualty during fire tragedy, etc.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Balachander N, Babu NA, Jimson S, Priyadharsini C, Masthan KM. Evolution of forensic odontology: An overview. J Pharm Bioallied Sci 2015;7 Suppl 1:S176-80.  Back to cited text no. 1
Pramod JB, Marya A, Sharma V. Role of forensic odontologist in post mortem person identification. Dent Res J (Isfahan) 2012;9:522-30.  Back to cited text no. 2
Shedge R, Krishan K, Warrier V, Kanchan T. Postmortem Changes. In: StatPearls Treasure Island, FL: StatPearls Publishing; 2020.  Back to cited text no. 3
Taylor J. A brief history of forensic odontology and disaster victim identification practices in Australia. J Forensic Odontostomatol 2009;27:64-74.  Back to cited text no. 4
Sognnaes RF, Strom F. The odontological identification of Adolf Hitler. Definitive documentation by X-rays, interrogations and autopsy findings. Acta Odont Scand 1973;31:43-69.  Back to cited text no. 5
Arora KS, Kaur P. Role of forensic odontology in the Indian Armed Forces: An unexplored arena. J Forensic Dent Sci 2016;8:173.  Back to cited text no. 6
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Kumar G, Dimri RB. Armed forces and disaster management in India. Econ Aff 2018;63:753-60.  Back to cited text no. 7
Arora KS, Bansal R. The use of dental records as a tool for the Unique Identification Authority of India in personal identification: A proposal. J Forensic Dent Sci 2018;10:119-22.  Back to cited text no. 8
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Charangowda BK. Dental records: An overview. J Forensic Dent Sci 2010;2:5-10.  Back to cited text no. 9
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Commissioning Standard for Urgent Dental Care. Publishing Approval Number: 000036 Version Number: 1.0 First Published: July 2019. London, OCDO; 2019.  Back to cited text no. 10
Tomar U, Airen B, Sarkar PA, Singh H, Bishen KA. A vigilance alert for forensic odontology: Preservation and maintenance of dental records in Central India. Indian J Dent Sci 2020;12:16-20.  Back to cited text no. 11
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Pillai JP, Chokkalingam TS, Aasaithambi B, Nuzzolese E. Establishment of the forensic odontology department: A proposed model for the basic infrastructure and forensic odontology kit. J Forensic Dent Sci 2019;11:64-72.  Back to cited text no. 13
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