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Denture labelling as personal identification

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Denture labeling can be used to identify victims in accidents (Diana Polekhina - Unsplash)

By: Dr Zubaidah Zanul Abidin, Assoc Prof Dr Lim Ghee Seong, Assoc Prof Dr Azwatee Abdul Aziz

The task of identifying victims of disasters or tragic events is crucial for victims’ families to get over their loss, become reconciled with the situation and administer justice. Detectives often apply old methods such as DNA tests and use fingerprints but there exists a lesser-known method called denture labeling that is used in forensic identification if the victims were a denture wearer. In situations where it is impossible to recognize a body or the conventional ways are not available, denture labeling can assist immensely in identifying deceased people who are wearing denture/s.

Dentures, commonly known as fake teeth, are prosthetic devices designed to replace missing teeth. They are custom-made for each individual and can vary in material, design, and fit. In Malaysia, the number of individuals who wear dentures is an important part of oral health epidemiology. Research discovered that 30% out of 993 patients wore either a complete or partial maxillary denture which means there are many people wearing dentures in this country. Therefore, what sets dentures apart as a forensic tool is their potential for customization and labeling. Dentures can be marked with unique identifiers such as engraved initials, serial numbers, or specific modifications tailored to the wearer’s dental characteristics. These identifiers serve as crucial clues in the identification process. Different techniques have been used to make the labeled such as the surface methods by engraving or embossing on the denture surface or they can use the inclusion method by embedding the initial in the denture base. With current technology, laser etching, electron microchips, RFID-tags and QR code which carries patients’ data have been incorporated in the denture.

Forensic odontologists specialize in retrieving dental evidence among other tasks associated with forensic dentistry. Denture labeling is one of the areas where these specialists can be involved during victim identification processes. By looking at the recovered dentures of dead individuals, these professionals can offer some positive identifications. They meticulously scrutinize the dentures for any distinguishing features or markings that could link them to known individuals.

One of the primary advantages of denture labeling is its compatibility with existing dental records. This information may include the type of denture, materials used, and any customization made to fit wearer’s oral anatomy. When victims are found with labeled dentures, forensic investigators can cross-reference these identifiers with dental records to establish positive identifications.

Denture labelling becomes particularly important when traditional means cannot work due mass disaster situations. In this regard, mutilated bodies that are unrecognizable or decomposed beyond recognition, denture labeling offers a beacon of hope for families awaiting news of their missing loved ones. For families who are waiting for results about their missing relatives, however, this means a lot of hope for a better future. When denture labeling is quickly matched against available dental records the identification process becomes faster and it helps ease the pain of deaths.

To enhance the well-being of forensic efforts in relation to denture labeling there are international standards that need to be observed when marking and keeping data on them. These guidelines outline how prosthesis should be engraved and relevant documents retained hence enabling smooth collaboration between various forensic teams from different jurisdictions. By adhering to these standards, forensic professionals can maximize the effectiveness of denture labeling as a tool for victim identification.

According to a 1997 study published in the International Dental Journal, during the Tawau aircraft accident in 1995, denture was utilized as one of the dental identifications for the victim. It does not matter if it is a natural catastrophe, terrorist attack or any humanitarian crisis, denture labeling does not depend on language barriers in order to determine victims from different cultures. In a world where tragedy knows no boundaries, the universality of denture labeling offers a glimmer of hope amidst the darkness of uncertainty.

As one of the potential alternative tools for forensic identification, denture labeling is effective only when it is done proactively, in preparation for the worst-case scenarios. Dental practitioners are encouraged to incorporate standardized marking methods as part of their regular procedures so that all dentures are inscribed with visible durable information. Denture wearers also need to liaise with their dental practitioners regarding the value of writing down and keeping accurate details about their teeth.

In summary, technology continues to advance and forensic science continues to progress, labeling the denture teeth will always be considered one of an unwavering hope for victims and families during difficult times. However small it may appear within the whole process of crime scene investigations, by meticulous scrutiny and resilience shown by forensic odontologists, the marked dentures will always be a helpful alternative in victims who are a denture wearer.

The authors are from the Department of Restorative Dentistry, Faculty of Dentistry, Universiti Malaya.

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