Dental Tribune UK & Ireland

Researcher shows how selfies could aid in identifying missing persons

By Brendan Day, DTI
September 03, 2019

DUNDEE, UK: Though sometimes denigrated as a sign of vanity, self-portrait photographs—selfies, for short—are not without their advantages. One such advantage, according to a researcher at the University of Dundee, is that they often provide several new dental identifiers that could be used to help police in cases involving missing persons.

The concept forms part of the Dental Identification Record Checklist, which was developed by Dr Claire Sallis, a researcher at the university’s School of Dentistry, and her supervisor Dr Scheila Mânica. The checklist is designed to expedite forensic identification by allowing police and forensic dentists to access a greater range of ante-mortem data, including selfies that show the missing person’s teeth, as well as bleaching trays and tooth moulds.

The checklist was developed in consultation with the UK Missing Persons Unit and the British Association for Forensic Odontology and has already been translated into 14 languages, including Mandarin, German and Italian. The ultimate aim, according to Sallis, is to shorten the length of time police require for gathering important evidence, thereby reducing the emotional strain the families of missing persons are subject to.

“You may not think about it, but your teeth are incredibly individual to you,” said Sallis. “When a dentist places a filling, they will never make the same filling ever again in their lifetime. That’s how unique they are, and that’s why they are great for identifying missing people.”

“Fingerprints, DNA and comparative dental analysis are the three primary identifiers recognised by Interpol. In the UK, we don’t have a national database of fingerprints unless you are a criminal; therefore, it is more likely that an individual has attended their dentist at some point than have had their prints taken. In certain situations, DNA can also be rendered unusable. For this reason, dental identifiers can be relied upon more frequently,” Sallis added.

Popular television shows such as CSI have shone a spotlight on forensic investigation. However, their tendency to stretch the truth has led to misinterpretations of how dental records can be used to help identify people, according to Sallis.

“We don’t tend to talk about how forensic odontology is used in books or films, but teeth are composed of one of the hardest tissues in your body—enamel—and therefore can last a very long time and withstand a variety of assaults. In cases where bodies of the deceased have begun post-mortem changes, the police have been able to rely upon dental identification due to the natural resilience of teeth,” she commented.

“So, even if you think your teeth are fine, getting a check-up to update your dental records could help should the worst ever happen,” Sallis said.

The Dental Identification Record Checklist is available for download here.

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