This is a fascinating case told in the Medical Detectives series. The case involves identification from teeth in two ways – the first, the identification of the victim from their dental records (using the presence of a mesiodens to assist) and secondly, the identification of the potential suspect – by linking DNA from the victim to that found on his possessions.
Identification of the victim – this case presents a classic example of the need for dental identification – that of remains that cannot be visually identified, here due to extensive burning of the body. Teeth withstand most post and peri mortem assaults and hence are useful repositories of identification evidence. Here the odontologist was able to ascertain a tentative ID, gain access to antemortem records, and then compare these to post mortem records. A match was made.
DNA from teeth – however the dentition of the victim in this case was used for more than just identification – it became a key link to the suspect. Enamel is the hardest structure in the human body and acts as an armoured coating for the biological material within. In this case an un-erupted third molar was used but today, with PCR techniques, any tooth could be used irrespective of its restorative condition.
This case serves to demonstrate the substantivity of the human dentition following post mortem assaults and shows that the dentition is not only a source of physical evidence, but that it can be used to provide biological material for DNA analysis. This can be important when only a few teeth are recovered or in cases where there are co-mingled remains.