What's in a dental record?

By - Bad Breath Expert

SUMMARY:  Shows like "True Detective" use dental records left and right, but does consulting these documents really lead to a closed case?

Posted: June 17, 2015

You're watching a crime show like "CSI" or "True Detective" and the investigative team finds a body that's unidentifiable. What should they do? If you answered, check their dental records, you might watch too much crime TV. While these types of shows use dental records all the time, you may be wondering whether consulting these documents can really lead to a closed case. To see just how viable the dental record is as a plot device, let's look at what goes into one. 

Inside a dental record 
The concept of a dental record is rather simple. It's essentially a compilation of the entire history of your oral care, from the canker sores you asked your dentist about last month to the filling you had as a kid. Ideally, the record will include everything a dentist has ever done or found in your mouth. However, poor record keeping and switching between dentists may cause some of your information to slip between the cracks.

In addition to treatment notes and procedures performed, your dental records contain communications you've had with your dentists, any advice he or she gave you (like switching to a certain toothpaste) and your personal information, such as address, insurance provider, and so on. As you can see, dental records are very detailed.

How detectives use dental records
So we know dental records hold a wealth of information, but how do police stations and detectives put all that data to use? Actually, a specialized investigator does the leg work: a forensic odontologist, or dentist. These dentists were trained not only to understand dental anatomy, but also interpret documents. Basically, they know what to look for in a crime scene or dental record and how to match the two up. This art is outside the realm of what a normal officer does, which is why police bring in forensic dentists.

In fact, forensic dentistry has played a key role in both solving crimes and convicting those responsible, much in the same way TV dramas depict the importance of the practice. For instance, a forensic dentist compared photos of a bite mark to a mouth cast of Ted Bundy to convict the criminal in his second trial in 1979. 

Using forensic dentistry to solve crimes and identify people seems rather super sleuth, and it can be. Perhaps that's why crime shows use dental records as a plot device so often. No matter the reason, it's hard to walk away from an episode in which teeth play a starring role.

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