University students use dental records for forensic purposes
Teeth found at a 4,500-year-old burial site in central-west Mexico - Photo: University of Connecticut/AP

University students use dental records for forensic purposes

Mexico City
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Ivet Gil-Chavarría and Mirsha Quinto lead the Laboratory of Forensic Anthropology and Odontology

Teeth can work as evidence to identify bodies since the chances of two dentures being identical are practically impossible because the number of combinations is immense, hence the importance of the UNAM working on the National Dental Collection.

The UNAM informed that those responsible for the Laboratory of Forensic Anthropology and Odontology (LAOF), Ivet Gil-Chavarría and Mirsha Quinto, of the Identification Unit from the Forensic Science of the Faculty of Medicine (FM), make up the National Dental Collection, with support from the Division of Postgraduate Studies and Research of the Faculty of Dentistry.

Ivet Gil-Chavarríaand Mirsha Quinto explained that the morphological and metric characteristics of each tooth, 32 on average, besides certain aspects acquired through the use of braces, amalgams, endodontic treatments or pigmentation, make it practically impossible for two dentures to be the same.

The experts indicated that under ideal conditions, the morphological and morphometric analysis of teeth allows discovering the sex, age, and ancestry of an individual.

They added that forensic dentistry can offer unambiguous information to recognize bodies in advanced stages of decomposition, skeletonized, drowned or burned by explosions or natural disasters.

The university students explained that the dental collection is divided into three sections: teeth extracted by some treatment and donated by patients; dental gypsum models used for orthodontic treatments, and digitized in 3D; and orthopantomography.

As part of the project, the researchers developed the project "Determination of standards of human identification from dental samples for forensic use in Mexico", based on three main categories: sex, age, and ancestry.

Thus, from metric records of the crowns of the teeth, based on occlusal and cervical faces, reference patterns are generated for sex estimation; in terms of age, it involves measuring the transparency of the root dentine and the proportions of the tooth.

However, these methods are not as precise, since the estimation range is three to seven years, "that is why the carbon 14 technique is enabled, and that although it is expensive and invasive, it is more accurate," they affirm.

Gil-Chavarría, in collaboration with experts from the Mass Spectrometry Laboratory of the Institute of Physics, analyzes dental pieces to generate reference tables according to the population, with the hope that they will be useful in forensic practice and the most precise expert reports.

In relation to ancestry, Gil-Chavarría and the LAOF team project the analysis of non-metric characters in teeth of contemporary populations, to infer population dynamics and miscegenation in Mexico.

On the other hand, the UNAM announced that the shape, size, and grooves of the lips are also unique, just like a fingerprint.

However, Mexico does not have a database of lip prints, although it could be used to identify someone.

In order to collect lip prints to do forensic investigation from the cheiloscopy, the study of the grooves of the lips, which are perennial, the people in charge of the LAOF and Cynthia San Juan Moro, of the Faculty of Dentistry of the UNAM, launched the campaign "Donate a kiss for science".

"At the LAOF, fingerprints are photographed and recorded, and in the near future, it is planned to map them using a digital tool to determine which are the most relevant grooves that will help reduce subjectivity in forensic practice," said Gil-Chavarría.


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