Awareness of forensic odontology among dentists in Australia: are they keeping forensically valuable dental records?

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Abstract

Background:

Forensic odontologists provide an important service to the community by identifying unknown deceased people, allowing both legal outcomes and family closure. Non-visual identification may be achieved by comparison of post-mortem data with ante-mortem dental records provided by oral health practitioners. Success is dependent largely on the accuracy and adequacy of data in the dental records.

Methods:

An online self-administered questionnaire evaluated Australian dentists’ knowledge and behaviours relevant to forensic odontology. Reported record keeping practices were assessed for detail, legibility, accessibility and retention. Behaviours were classified according to the frequency of response.

Results:

Dentists reported overall reasonable awareness of the major applications of forensic odontology. Personal information and details of restorative treatment were recorded at high levels, while tooth anomalies, photography, additional patient details and denture marking were recorded inadequately. Legible tooth coding was reported at a high level, while other key legibility practices were recorded inadequately. Few of the behaviours related to retention or to maximize accessibility were recorded at a high level.

Conclusions:

Australian dentists have high expectations of the forensic value of their dental records; however, many processes that would enhance the diagnostic, medico-legal and forensic value of dental records are not routinely applied.

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