The most common role of the forensic dentist is the identification of deceased individuals. Dental identification takes two main forms. Firstly, the most frequently performed examination is a comparative identification that is used to establish (to a high degree of certainty) that the remains of a decedent and a person represented by antemortem (before death) dental records are the same individual. Information from the body or circumstances usually contains clues as to who has died. Secondly, in those cases where antemortem records are not available, and no clues to the possible identity exist, a postmortem (after death) dental profile is completed by the forensic dentist suggesting characteristics of the individual likely to narrow the search for the antemortem materials.
Unidentified bodies come to light frequently, having drowned, burned, been murdered, having committed suicide or dead from natural causes. Usually, sufficient evidence is apparent to be able to positively identify the body, but from time to time, this identification will rely on dental evidence. All mouths are different and the trained eye of the forensic odontologist will be able to offer a considerable amount of useful information. Most obvious will be to provide an accurate charting of the teeth and fillings present to compare with dental records of missing persons. This often leads to a positive identification.
Even if only a few teeth are available, one can still offer an age estimation, smoking habit, state of oral hygiene, and identification of individual features which may match with ante-mortem records.
Where the subject has no teeth, useful information can still be gleaned from the study of any dentures and by X-raying the mouth and skull.
It is important that the services of a forensic odontologist be sought early in these cases, as much time consuming police work can be avoided given a dental report early in the investigation.