May 20, 2010
Amrita School of Dentistry, Kochi
Best paper awards were won by Dr. Mahija Janardhanan and Dr. Tina Elizabeth Jacob of the Amrita School of Dentistry at the 7th National Conference of Indian Association of Forensic Odontology recently convened in Chennai.
Emergence of Forensic Odontology as a separate science has enabled the oral pathologist to not just see what is evident under the microscope but also listen to what tissues of dead bodies have to say.
Forensic Odontology plays a role in the courts of law today wherein dental evidence is evaluated in order to identify deceased persons or establish the age of deceased children.
Dr. Mahija, Reader at the Department of Oral Pathology and Microbiology presented a paper titled “The use of dental criteria for estimating postnatal survival in skeletal remains of infants.”
A study was undertaken to demonstrate the presence of the neonatal line on the developing teeth of an infant who died one week after birth as well as on a tooth extracted due to an associated cystic pathology from a one-and-half year-old baby.
Both light and polarized microscopic studies demonstrated the presence of the neonatal line on the teeth, supporting the theory that the existence of this line indicated a live birth.
“This neonatal line is a hypo-mineralised line seen on the enamel and dentin of all teeth developing prenatally,” explained Dr. Mahija. “The presence of this line can serve as supplementary evidence that can help us distinguish between infanticide and stillbirth.”
Conventional forensic medical tools and methods cannot establish whether an infant was born alive or not. If the time period of an infant’s survival is to be calculated, the neonatal line in the tooth of the infant embedded deep in the jaws, can serve as a black box to speak for the dead.
“This is of great medico legal importance, especially in a country like ours, where female infanticide is quite common,” emphasized Dr. Mahija.
Dr. Tina, Assistant Professor in the same department, also won the same award. Her paper was titled “Truth in the Tooth – Carbon 14 Dating Technique.”
“Establishing the identity of a deceased individual is an important aspect in forensic odontology,” explained Dr. Tina. “Determination of the age plays a critical role in establishing the profile of the deceased individual.”
“The age at death is a biological determinant closely related to the chronological age. Teeth provide an important source of information with regards to age, due to their survivability.”
Dr. Tina’s paper provided an overview of the carbon 14 dating technique for the estimation of age. The radiocarbon activity in the carbonate component of the tooth is measured. The measurements are calibrated to typically produce two possible age ranges.
“Further carbon activity measurements of the collagen component of combined dentin and cementum from the root of the same tooth enables the appropriate age range to be selected,” shared Dr. Tina. “Thus carbon 14 dating can enable a forensic odontologist to provide a good estimate of the year of birth from examining a single tooth.”