Dental X-rays for assessing age of asylum seekers

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British government may still choose dental radiographs to estimate asylum seeker age despite BDA opposition

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A Home Office committee is expected to recommend dental radiographs for assessing the age of asylum seekers in the UK, although this method was condemned as inaccurate and unethical by the British Dental Assiciation in the recent past. (Image: Victor Moussa/Shutterstock)
Dental Tribune International

By Dental Tribune International

Mon. 29 August 2022

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LONDON, UK: After much debate about the safest and most scientific way of proving the age of individuals seeking asylum in the UK, it seems that a report slated to be released by the Home Office’s independent Age Estimation Science Advisory Committee will likely still recommend dental radiographs as one of four techniques to assess age.

In addition to dental radiographs, sources that spoke with New Scientist said that the committee will recommend another radiographic technique and two magnetic resonance imaging scanning techniques for age assessment.

“If the government presses ahead with dental age checks it will be an aberration. These are not scientific methods, but reckless plans that fail basic tests on accuracy and ethics,” said Dr Eddie Crouch, chair of the British Dental Association (BDA) Principal Executive Committee.

Dental Tribune International has been following the debate since the BDA originally issued a warning in 2015 about the misuse of dental radiographs in determining refugee age. The BDA has been vigilant about monitoring the government’s decision on the matter, and it seemed that the BDA had a key victory to celebrate earlier this year when an amendment challenging the use of dental radiographs was passed in the House of Lords.

In the BDA’s official statement on the Nationality and Borders Bill, it declared its opposition to the use of dental radiographs for age assessment. One of the key points stated: “This is an inaccurate method for assessing age. The BDA also believes that it is inappropriate and unethical to take radiographs of people when there is no health benefit for them.” It explained: “Dental X-rays are not a reliable way of establishing age. X-rays can fairly reliably estimate age in younger children, but as young people mature at different rates, this method becomes much less reliable in adolescents and the potential margin of error gets ever larger with age.”

The BDA also cited the fact that wisdom teeth can form at any time between the ages of 16 and 23, and for some people, they never form at all. The BDA’s full statement given to Parliament on 19 August 2021 can be found here.

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