When the most recent round of California wildfires began earlier this fall, little did anyone know how devastating the disaster would be - or how hard it would be to identify the dozens of victims of the wild blaze. But a grim form of dentistry - forensic dentistry - is coming to the rescue in a big way.
Forensic dentistry is the science of using teeth to identify the deceased. Though the name "forensic" may suggest only crime victims, forensic dentistry may be used to identify victims of natural disasters such as the California fires.
Dr. Gary Lederman is a dentist based in Bellmore, New York. Though he does not practice forensic dentistry, Lederman says the wildfires in California highlight the need for the field - and for dentistry as a whole.
"When someone uses forensic dentistry to identify a victim, they are using that person’s unique features – their teeth - to do so. But without an accurate representation of those teeth, it can be difficult to use those records to identify someone," he says.
According to Lederman, this is all the more reason to visit your regular dentist at least twice a year.
"When patients visit the dentist every six to 12 months, we have a more accurate picture of their current oral health," he says. "Updated records not only show any potential problems with your teeth, in the unfortunate chance something was to happen, but these records can also make it easier to identify victims."
With over 560 people still unaccounted for in the wake of the California wildfires, those among the missing who have dental records could potentially be identified - and laid to rest - faster than those who do not.
"For so many reasons, oral health offers peace of mind. Not just in life, but sadly sometimes in passing as well," Lederman says.