Age estimation helped solve a recent European case where a man was tortured and then murdered in a brutal fashion: his hands were tied and he had received multiple flesh wounds before finally dying.

After the murder, the criminal tried to hide the crime by burning the victim. As a result the victim was unrecognizable: the outer layer—hair, skin, and clothing—was completely burned away. 

However, the teeth were preserved because they are the hardest parts of the body. This victim had shining white teeth, which led the policemen and forensic pathologist in attendance to agree that he must have been young. 

Fortunately, the forensic odontologist was also in attendance and recognized that the “nice white teeth” were in fact artificial—covered by expensive porcelain veneer. The rear teeth were worn and had moderate periodontal disease. 

Dental age estimation by the forensic odontologist provided a completely different victim profile: this man was approx 50 yr old and was likely someone wealthy enough to have this expensive veneer work done. 

In this investigation the forensic odontologist correctly recognized and correlated a variety of interrelated factors: the normal dental anatomy, the presence of subtle blended restorations, and the age-related pathology and wear patterns. 

This technique is called “reconstructive postmortem dental profiling.” With reconstructive profiling, dental evidence collected from the body is used to determine the victim’s profile, including factors such as approximate chronological age, social status (e.g., expensive restorations imply wealth), smoking and dietary habits, and even sex and race. 

Dental age estimation is a common dental forensic procedure. 

It can be done upon intact teeth, as demonstrated in the preceding case, or even more precisely by sectioning the teeth and examining them microscopically. 

The microscopic exam typically assesses features such as the amount of secondary dentine (a reparative tissue), increased root transparency, root resorption, and the amount of cementum around the root—all of which increase directly with age.
The gross appearance of the wear patterns and other microscopic findings are all directly related to a person’s age. Several formulae have been derived to calculate age based on these observations and measurements. 

The application of reliable dental age estimation techniques, as well as assessment of other associated dental features, permit the police to narrow their search among missing persons and, therefore, identify murder or disaster victims more quickly and effectively. 

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