Dental Identification Article: The Value of Teeth As A Means of Identification (1904)

I have been reminded by the articles in the Popular Science Monthly, of the neglect of the teeth as a means of identification, which to me, as a practical dentist, has always seemed very remarkable. No system of identification that I am aware of has ever mentioned these valuable organs for this purpose, notwithstanding the facts that they are so varied in features so durable. They are the most indestructible of all animal tissues and their value in this respect ought to be appreciated, for after death, when all the other tissues have disappeared, the teeth remain and maintain the features and peculiarities that they presented in life.

It is a source of wonder to the dental profession that the signs furnished by the teeth have been so persistently overlooked in systems of identification, especially by life-insurance companies. The number of signs furnished by the teeth, both of natural features and of artificial operations upon them, is so varied and extensive that they present an amount of valuable data that ought not to be ignored.

A simple system of record of the natural peculiarities of the teeth and of the artificial operations upon them could be devised which in the hands of a competent person, who would need to be an expert dentist, of course, would furnish reliable and less perishable evidence than the other external signs of the body.

Every dentist keeps a record of all the operations he performs for every patient, upon an individual chart or page in a special diagram, for his own convenience and protection. By means of these charts, dentists have, in several instances, assisted materially in the identification of the bodies of persons for whom they have operated, after catastrophes, notably the charity bazaar fire in Paris. A similar chart could be incorporated in the examination records of life insurance companies, for instance, on which the dental peculiarities could be recorded in a manner which could be easily read by another expert.

Even if some teeth were lost or altered in the course of years, many signs would yet remain on the surviving teeth, for the original form of a tooth would be the same and an artificial operation could not be obliterated. Thus the size and width of the arch; the size, shape and color of the teeth; teeth missing or altered; kind of fillings and location; gold crowns, bridges or artificial plates, etc. All these and other distinct features could be easily recorded with the subject, even if dead and if only skeleton remained, to assist materially in identification by another expert.

By way of Suggesting a scheme for the tabulating of the dental peculiarities, the following plan of classification is proposed, which covers all the general features of the teeth and their environments and could be recorded by one and read by another expert dentist. This scheme is merely suggestive and could be improved by practise and experience.

Classified list of dental and oral peculiarities

(a) Curve of arch, whether round, square or V-shape.

(b) Width of arch, in centimeters from outside surfaces of first upper molars.

(c) Depth of vault, from grinding faces of molars.

(d) Color and texture of gums, peculiarities of ridges in roof.

(e) Size of teeth, whether large small or medium.

(f) Shape of teeth, whether wide or narrow, long or shore, worn or not, etc.

(g) Color of teeth, white or dark, yellowish, bluish or modification, etc (This factor would be modified by time and habits, but the expert observer would estimate that.)

(h) Irregularities of the teeth, as to being out of normal place, crowding and malpositions generally.

(i) Teeth absent totally.

(j) Fillings in teeth - noting positions on crown and materials employed.

(k) Cavities of decay unfilled.

(l) Diseased teeth, dead teeth, chronic abscess, etc.

(m) Artifical teeth crowns - porcelain, gold, bridge teeth, etc.

(n) Artificial teeth on plates.

(o) Miscellaneous peculiarities - such as abrasion, pits or other congenital markings; lingual cingules; number of cusps on second lower bicuspids, upper second molars, etc.; third molars, whether present or absent; forms of crowns, etc., and all abnormal forma of teeth, etc.

Many of these characteristics might be perishable, of course, and of value only for a limited time, but others are of permanent durability and would last while the teeth themselves lasted. The perishable data would need to be taken into consideration at a later examination and a practical dentist would naturally make such allowances. The absence of some data would not always mean lack of identity, for a reasonable allowance would need to be made for perishable dental features.

A chart is shown as an example on which is recorded some of the peculiaraties of an ordinary mouth according to this scheme.

Upper Jaw Above; Lower Jaw Below

(a) Round square. (b) 5.8cm. (c) 2.5cm. (d) Gum reddish pink; health line well marked; rugae shallow and rather straight. (e) Medium small. (f) Rather wide and short, cusps low and rounded. (g) Rich cream color shading to yellowish at cervical border. (h) Upper laterals both everted at mesial border: right lower central crowded inward. (i) First right upper bicuspid and second lower molar missing; first upper molar broken off and roots remaining. (j) 1, gold filling; 2, larger amalgam filling; 3, cement filling. (k) 1, deep decay; 2, shallow decay. (l) Dead tooth and chronic abscess and fistula. (m) 1, gold teeth crown; 2, porcelain crown. (n) 1, third molar peg-shaped; 2, both lower bicuspids of tricuspid form; 3, whitish spot on labial face.

The history of life insurance litigation demonstrates the value of imperishable physical data for the purpose of identification, and these data the teeth furnish. It is more than probable that much expensive litigation and unfair decisions would have been avoided if these data had been heretofore utilized. In the celebrated Hillmon case, Which dragged its slow length for twenty years through the United States courts of the West, casts of the alleged corpse of Hillmon were placed in evidence which showed that the denture was perfect and regular, while the teeth of Hillmon himself were said to be irregular and some were absent. It was a case in which the body was so disfigured by decomposition that evidence in regard to the teeth was of the utmost importance.

If a chart of Hillmon's own teeth could have been produced which showed some of his dental peculiarities (missing teeth, irregularities, fillings, etc.) a comparison with the teeth of the corpse would have been of advantage so that the case would have been sooner settled and much tedious and expensive litigation avoided.

The data are so accessible and so important, that we feel justified in urging the matter upon the attention of those who have charge of the classes of which physical records are required. The dental data should be employed as supplementary to other systems of signs for identification, and would thus be of value in the records of soldiers and criminals as well as for insurance companies.

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