This post follows on from last week’s Writing Crime post about Identifying the Victim as Cleopatralovesbooks asked in the comments for further information on the process involved in the dental ID.
I have a question about the dental records – we are often told in the media these are used but how do you know where to find them – I understand that a child living with an adult will know who their dentist is but I’m fairly sure my OH has no idea. Are all local dentists checked out?
If you have a person who is generally intact, like in my debut, Shallow Waters for instance – a teenager – but there was no clothing present and from the description, age, height, weight, hair colour, it could have been more than one girl reported missing, because missing teenage girls are common and I’m not just talking abducted sinister missing kids here. Children run away all the time. There are multiple missing persons on the go at any one time that are likely to turn up – though of course, they have to be searched for because though they’ve gone of their own accord, you never know what they are going to get themselves into because of their vulnerable state.
Anyway, you have a regular body in front of you and several possibilities. Your odontologist does an examination, makes notes, takes dental impressions, the same ones you have taken when you’re in the dentist having braces, they made a mould so they can see the teeth. They take X-rays to see cavities and it’s all logged. Then they go to the missing person list and obtain the dental records of all the people who it could possibly be. Because what happens when a police officer attends a report of a missing person is that one of the questions on the list of questions, is, ‘who is the person’s dentist?’ Then they compare the person on the table against the records of the people with dental records to see if they have a match. Now obviously if the person isn’t registered at a dentist, then this isn’t going to help a great deal. But, if they do, then the job is done and you can make contact with the family.
There are other ways an odontologist can help narrow things down if this isn’t your scenario.
If your body is not so identifiable and it’s just a skeleton or been burned (and teeth can withstand heat) then they can examine the teeth and give you a great deal of useful information from them. Age, DNA from the pulp if there is any to retrieve, plus some things about the biters lifestyle, for instance, if they were a pipe smoker, because of where the pipe would rest within the teeth. Lifestyle can really help police when trying to identify a victim and teeth talk!
Though, sometimes you just can’t identify a body and this is a difficult one for all concerned. For some people and their circumstances, they just aren’t reported missing, they have no one, their murdered life was awful and the sadness of being left unidentified sadly sums up everything about them.
Let me know if you want anything specific covering in this Writing Crime series. You can go back and find all previous topics Here.
Rebecca Bradley is a retired police detective who now writes the DI Hannah Robbins crime novels set in Nottingham, UK.