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ID’ing human remains with dental records subject of technical report

Report, developed in part by ADA, defines best practices for the field of forensic odontology

August 22, 2017

By Michelle Manchir


Dr. Kenneth W. Aschheim

Some dentists may know what it’s like to be approached by law enforcement seeking dental records to help identify victims of car accidents or other traumatic events.

Dental identification, after all, is a common method of identifying human remains that are decomposed, burned, fragmented or skeletonized. A technical report published earlier this year by the ADA Standards Committee on Dental Informatics and a national committee dedicated to forensic odontology helps dentists better understand their role in the process.

The American Dental Association Technical Report No. 1088, Human Identification by Comparative Dental Analysis, aims to help ensure best practices among dentists, law enforcement, emergency planners, medical examiners, coroners and others involved in the field when it comes to this type of work.

The document serves as a set of approved guidelines and a summary of key points related to forensic dentistry, said Dr. Kenneth W. Aschheim, chair of the ADA Standards Subcommittee on Forensic Odontology Informatics and adjunct clinical associate professor of cariology and comprehensive care at the New York University School of Dentistry.

If accepted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Forensic Scientific Area Subcommittee later this year, the report would be included in the National Institute of Justice's nationally approved registry of guidelines related to forensics, Dr. Aschheim said. Earlier in August, the first ADA standard on dental forensics, ANSI/ADA Standard No. 1058 Forensic Dental Data Set, was accepted into the registry as part of ANSI-NIST ITL, an internationally recognized forensic communication standard.

 “The ADA Standards Subcommittee on Forensic Odontology Informatics is always happy to assist forensic dentistry and be represented at national forensic meetings,” said Dr. Aschheim, who became a dental consultant to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in New York City following 9/11 and, as a computer programmer, helped develop software that reduces the time needed to identify disaster victims.

The technical report was developed with the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Crime Scene/Death Investigation Scientific Area Committee Forensic Odontology Subcommittee’s Dental Identification Task Force as part of a national effort to develop science-based standards and guidelines for all forensic disciplines.

Developing such a technical report within the standards organization process involved expertise from numerous nationally recognized forensic odontology specialists from throughout the country, said Dr. Aschheim. The final document, which was based on guidelines originally created by the American Board of Forensic Odontology, was vetted and approved by experts and all stakeholders, said Dr. Aschheim, whose work as chair of the ADA subcommittee was recognized with a Distinguished Individual Service Award from the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Organization of Scientific Area Committees. Dr. Robert Barsley, a professor at Louisiana State University School of Dentistry and past president of the America Academy of Forensic Sciences; and Dr. Peter Loomis, a forensic odontologist with the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator, were key leaders in the development of the report, noted Dr. Aschheim.

The technical report is available online at ebusiness.ADA.org. Search for “ADA Technical Report No. 1088 Human Identification by Comparative Dental Analysis.”

For more information about the ADA’s involvement in standards development and technical reports related to forensic science, email Paul Bralower, manager of standards for the ADA Center for Informatics and Standards, at bralowerp@ada.org.

For more information about dental standards and technical reports, visit ADA.org/DentalStandards.