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Opinion by Brant Hansen, special to CNN
(CNN) -- In the book “Jim and Caspar Go to Church,” an atheist turns to a Christian minister as they're watching a Sunday morning church service and earnestly asks, "Is this what Jesus told you guys to do?"
I've grown up in churches and I'm a Christian, and I'm right there with the atheist.
Most people associate dentists with banishing bad breath and helping to keep gum disease at bay, but did you know that some dentists also help to catch criminals?
Dentistry is important in ways we may not realize and a helping important tool used by police, legal experts and forensics to solve crimes, convict criminals and piece together the details of a crime.
What is forensic dentistry?
Any dentist may be asked to provide evidence or information to help solve a crime, but there is a specific field of dentistry called forensic dentistry, which deals with criminal cases. Forensic dentistry involves the use of dental knowledge and expertise to aid civil and criminal investigations; forensic dentists work with police and law-making agencies to solve crimes and identify individuals.
There are six main areas, in which forensic dentists are involved, including:
* the identification of bodies in instances of mass fatality
* the identification of human remains (usually no other form of identification is possible in this case)
* estimating the age of a person to aid police inquiries or help to find a missing person
* the assessment of injuries caused by biting and evaluation of bite marks
* assessment of injuries in abuse cases
* malpractice claims
If you read the newspaper or watch the news on a regular basis, you will probably have come across headlines, which say that dental records have been used to identify a body or a missing person. Dental records are often used in cases where the body that has been found is in a poor state and other potential sources of identification are no longer possible; for example, if a body is badly burned or a person has been dead for a long time and the tissue has decomposed, dental records may be ordered.
Dentists who specialize in forensic dentistry are also known as odontologists; they are often asked to collect samples of tooth tissue and compare them with dental records to identify a person and confirm the presence of a suspect at a crime scene. Odontologists may analyze bite marks, look for special or unique markings or features of the teeth, which may distinguish a person or compare existing teeth with dental records, which are kept by dental practitioners. Dentists can also analyze the size and shape of the teeth to give clues about the race and age of an individual.
How to become a forensic dentist
Forensics has become very popular thanks to televisions dramas such as the CSI series. People find forensics fascinating and this is a field, which enables people to make a real difference; it is also an interesting and ever-changing job, which allows people to experience different workplaces and scenarios on a daily basis.
Forensic dentists have advanced training and they complete further studies after qualifying in dentistry, as with all dentists who choose to specialise in a certain area. There are postgraduate programmes in Forensic Dentistry and Odontology available at universities in the UK and most provide a combination of theoretical study and practical training. Ask a London based clinic about the qualifications you may need to become a dentist.
Richard is a Manchester based writer focusing on health and dental care. Currently he is working with the London based clinic, Freshdental at http://www.freshdental.co.uk to educate people on the importance of oral health and tooth kindness.
This article is reprinted here permission of Richard Buckley.
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