By Sanchita Bera-

Meaning of Odontology (Forensic Dentistry)

Odontology means a science dealing with the teeth, their structure and development, and their diseases[1]. While Forensic Odontology means a branch of forensic medicine dealing with the teeth and marks left by teeth (as identifying criminal suspects or the remains of a dead person)[2]. Forensic Odontology covers the following sub-themes within its sphere: individual identification, mass identification, Rugoscopy, Cheiloscopy, Ameloglyphics, and Bite Mark Analysis.

The Dawn of Forensic Odontology

The history of forensic odontology goes back to the time of the Garden of Eden, where according to the Old Testament, Adam was convinced by Eve to put a bite mark on the apple. As such there was no concept of forensic odontology during ancient times, neither there is any evidence of such records, comparisons, or evaluations done in this field of forensic science. But during 66AD there is evidence regarding the use of teeth for identification in the Agrippina and Lollia Pauline case. In this case, Agrippina after marrying the emperor of Rome, Claudius, wanted to secure her position, to do so, she ordered her soldiers to kill Lollia Paulina and bring her body. After identifying the dental alignments and few idiosyncratic features, she was satisfied. This was for the first time when dental identification was recorded. India had its first case of forensic odontology in the year 1193, when Jai Chand, Raja of Kanuji was murdered and was identified by his false teeth. In the year 1758, during the Indian and French war, when Peter Halket was killed, his son identified his skeleton with the help of an artificial tooth. In 1776, in the battle of Breed’s Hill in Boston, Dr. Joseph Waren’s face was destructured beyond recognition due to a fatal head wound suffered by him during the war. Paul Revere, a dentist pin-pointed Waren’s small denture on his dead body. The first complete text on forensic odontology was done by Dr. Oscar Amoedo through his thesis entitled ‘L’ Art Dentaire en Medicine Leagale’. He is also known as the father of forensic odontologist[3].

In 1962, the United States for the first time introduced the formal training Forensic Odontology at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. The Odontology Section of the American Academy of Forensic Science (OSAAFS) was established in the early 1970s[4].

The Indian Association of Forensic Odontology (IAFO) was established in the year 2000 with the help of a small group of dentists from all around India, headed by Dr. (Late) J.G Kannappan, the renowned forensic dentistry expert and the Founder President of the same in Chennai. The IAFO was formally registered in 2002 under the Registrar of Societies, Chennai, and currently has 470 members[5].

The System of Forensic Odontology: Highlighting the techniques used in Forensic Odontology

Forensic Odontology uses the following techniques:

a. Rugoscopy: It is the study of Palatal rugae. Palatal rugae consist of three to seven ridges, which protrudes out in tangential pattern from the incisive papilla. The shapes of these ridges can be further classified into curved, wavy, straight, and branched. Every individual has a unique pattern of the ridge. Rugoscopy is conducted when postmortem dental identification is not feasible.

b. Cheiloscopy: It is the study of lip prints. Lip prints can be used to identify suspects of the bite mark because they have numerous elevations and depressions which form a unique pattern. The lip prints can be categorized into vertical, intersected, branched, and reticular.

c. Ameloglyphics: It is the examination of tooth prints or the study of the enamel rod end patterns. Enamel rods have ameloblasts above them in a wave and intertwining path.

d. Bite mark analysis: For analyzing the bite mark analysis the following factors are to be considered:

  • Size, Shape, and Arrangement of Teeth: The incisor teeth of humans create a rectangular mark, while canine teeth create triangular marks in a cross-sectional manner. The bite marks of the animals create small and circular marks, which often puncture the skin and make a cross-sectional pattern.

  • Size of Dental Arch: A human adult’s arches width from canine to canine ranges from 2.5 cm to 4cm, while in children the width of the arches is smaller in size compared to that in adult humans. Dogs and Cats have smaller arch width than human children.

  • Evaluation of Bite Marks Photographs: The field of photograph analysis or evaluation of bite marks has still not evolved. Every endeavor must be made to analyze and retrieve the bite mark from the in vivo (Originated from the Latin term, which means 'within the living') and in vitro ((Originated from the Latin term, which means 'within the glass') perspective, instead of analyzing the same with the help of superimposition of the marks on the photographs.

  • Evaluation of Arches: The forensic expert notes the shape of the arches and identifies the central lines of both the upper and lower arches.

  • Suction Marks: The appearance of suction marks in the center of the arch marks, indicates that the bite mark is of a human. Because the suction marks originate when there is an injury to the blood vessels caused by compressing the jaws of the biter (person who causes the bite mark)

  • Characteristics in the Mark: From the areas of injuries, the following can be noted: level of a particular tooth (misplacement of teeth), presence of sharp cusp or tooth numbers[6].

The above-mentioned techniques are studied and considered by the Forensic Dentistry expert when analyzing or studying the Bite Marks or conducting dentistry for forensics.

Forensic Odontology vis-à-vis Criminal Justice System: Advantages

Using Forensic Odontology as a Forensic Tool has the following advantages:

  • There are two postulates on which bite mark analysis has been founded: One, every human has a unique anterior dentition, and Two, the unique anterior dentition clearly and reliably gets recorded on the skin or surface of any object.

  • Rugoscopy: Every individual has a distinctive pattern of palatal rugae. Therefore, this technique would easily identify the bite marks or other patterns of the tooth of the suspect.

  • Cheiloscopy: The numerous elevations and depressions of the lip print forms a unique pattern. Also, this technique of identifying lip prints is an accepted technique in the Criminal Justice System worldwide[7]. Worldwide recognition indicates the fact that the technique is well-founded and admissible.

  • Ameloglyphics: The enamel is the hardest mineralized substance in the human body, and this technique can be used to identify the pattern of teeth, even when the body is decomposed or burned.

Forensic Odontology vis-à-vis Criminal Justice System: Grey Areas

Using Forensic Odontology as a Forensic Tool has the following loopholes:

i. The two postulates on which bite mark analysis is made has the following cons:

  • The shape and clarity of the bite marks go through changes within a short span of 10-20 minutes both on the surface of living or non-living, due to intrinsic alterations.

  • The photographs of the bite mark which are two-dimensional in nature will not be able to associate with the three-dimensional mark in terms of color and spatial relations.

  • For bite mark analysis, the minimum requirement is four to five teeth, incomplete bite marks cannot be used as a piece of conclusive evidence.

ii. Rugoscopy: The complex structure of the rugae can bring in both intra or inter-observer errors. Also, adding to these shortcomings, any denture wear, tooth mal-positioning, and palatal pathology can cause changes in the pattern of the rugae.

iii. Cheiloscopy: To avoid any variations in the lip prints, the same is to be collected within 24 hours, which stands to be impossible in many cases. Also, the pattern of the lip print depends on the position of the mouth, that is, whether the mouth is closed or opened, if closed, the print portrays standard grooves of the lips and if opened then the print cannot be defined easily and will be strenuous to interpret. Another factor that may affect the lip print examination, is in case of loss of anterior teeth because the whole support of the print is lost.

iv. Ameloglyphics: Although, enamel is the hardest mineralized substance in the human body, the same is generally put through micro or macro wear and tear, the problem of decaying, abrading, and eroding teeth. In such cases, the examination cannot be done.

Forensic Odontology vis-à-vis Criminal Justice System: Counter Arguments

Using Forensic Odontology as a Forensic Tool can have loopholes, therefore against such loopholes the following are the counter-arguments:

  1. The two postulates on which the entire bite mark analysis is reckoned upon can be made superior with the help of more advanced science and new techniques to better analyze, evaluate, and compare.

  2. Rugoscopy: To bring out perfect results of palatal rugae, the examination has to be supported with postmortem dental recognition and antemortem records.

  3. Cheiloscopy: The lip prints are to be taken down carefully and with full caution, also they are to be collected within 24 hours, if all these steps are followed, then any possible errors can be avoided. Because lip prints are unique to every individual.

  4. Ameloglyphics: Examination of tooth prints should be accompanied by antemortem records, which will lead to ideal results. Also, if the enamel is kept under perfect conditions and well preserved then the same can be saved from micro or macro wear and tear.


Both the investigations and the evidence systems need to keep pace with the changing crime patterns and the progressive criminals who are committing crimes using various advanced techniques. When both the systems work scientifically, only then the evidence collected or gathered can be made admissible in the Court of Law. The Supreme Court points out that, “We must not forget that the object of criminal law process is to find out the truth and not to shield the accused from the consequences of his wrongdoing[8]”. The apex court in Som Prakash v. the State of Delhi went on to say that there is a heavy requirement of investigations to be held scientifically and the shreds of evidence to be preserved, to make the same admissible and punish those who are at fault. In a study made in 2011, the Supreme Court and various High Courts relied upon DNA in only 47 cases, out of which 23.4% decisions were given alone by the Delhi High Court, and of that 4.7% were murder cases and 2.3% rape and murder cases[9]. If proper guidelines and regulations are made for the forensic odontologists and the investigating teams, then the specimens found in the crime scene can be made admissible before the Courts under Section 45 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 which deals with opinions of an expert (forensic experts). In India, the bite mark evidence was taken into contemplation by the Supreme Court in Nirbhaya’s case, but the same played a supportive role besides other pieces of evidence. The bite marks or forensic odontology plays an important role in the absence of physical evidence in the crime scene like in Linda Peacock’s case. Forensic Odontology as a Forensic tool has helped solve many cold cases that could not be solved for years like the Carla Terry Murder case. Also, there were instances wherein the accused was convicted solely relying upon the evidence produced by Forensic odontologist in Ted Bundy's serial Killer case.

[1]Meaning of Odontology (May 26, 2021, 12:30 PM), [2]Meaning of Forensic Odontology (May 26, 2021, 12:32 PM), [3]N. Balachander, N. Aravindha Babu, Sudha Jimson, C. Priyadharsini, and K.M.K Masthan, Evolution of Forensic Dentistry: An Overview, NATIONAL CENTER FOR BIOTECHNOLOGY INFORMATION (May 26, 2021, 09:20 PM), [4]Steven Weigler, Bite Mark Evidence: Forensic Odontology and Law, SCHOOL OF LAW, CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY (May 26, 2021, 09:29 PM), [5]The Indian Association of Forensic Odontology, (May 26, 2021, 09:54 PM), [6]Kalyani Bhargava, Deepak Bhargava, et. al., An Overview of Bite Mark Analysis, RESEARCHGATE (May 26, 2021, 01:11 PM), [7]Dr. Kanupriya Gupta, Advantages and Disadvantages of Forensic Odontology, INTERNATIONAL EDUCATION AND RESEARCH JOURNAL (May 26, 2021, 11:27 PM), [8]Mohammad Ajmal Mohammad Amir Kasab v. the State of Maharashtra, AIR 2012 SC 3566 [9]Dr. Nirpar Patel, Vidhwansh K Gautaman, Shyam Sundar Jangir, The Role of DNA in Criminal Investigations Admissibility in Indian Legal System and Future Perspective, INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF HUMANITIES AND SOCIAL SCIENCE INVENTION (May 27, 2021, 12:38 AM),

Author- Sanchita Bera


The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Faculty of Law, Vadodara

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