B. Kolude1; B.F. Adeyemi1; J.O. Taiwo2 ; O.F. Sigbeku1; U.O. Eze3

  1. Department of Oral Pathology, UCH, Ibadan.
  2. Department of Periodontology & Community Dentistry, UCH, Ibadan.
  3. Department of Pathology, UCH, Ibadan.


This review article focuses on mass disaster situations that may arise from natural or manmade circumstances and the significant role of forensic dental personnel in human identification following such occurrences. The various forensic dental modalities of identification that include matching techniques, postmortem profiling, genetic fingerprinting, dental fossil assessment and dental biometrics with digital subtraction were considered. The varying extent of use of forensic dental techniques and the resulting positive impact on human identification were considered. The importance of preparation by way of special training for forensic dental personnel, mock disaster rehearsal, and use of modern day technology was stressed. The need for international standardization of identification through the use of Interpol Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) for ms was further emphasized.
Recommendations for improved human identification in Nigerian situation include reform of the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA), incorporation of dental care in primary health care to facilitate proper ante mortem database of the populace and commencement of identification at site of disaster.


Dr. B. Kolude
Department of Oral Pathology,
Faculty of Dentistry,
College of Medicine,
University College Hospital campus,
Ibadan, Nigeria.


Mass disaster may be caused by natural events such as severe flooding, earthquake or volcanic eruption. It may also be caused by human activities such as mishaps involving mass transport by land, sea or air; other causes include war, boundary disputes, ethnic or religious conflicts and as in the Nigerian situation, petroleum pipe line explosion1, 2 , 3.

Following mass disaster, identification of individual victims by dental means is one of the most reliable methods (figure 1). In severe burn situations and/or following severe disintegration, visual recognition of facial features and fingerprints is often impossible due to extensive soft tissue destruction; this situation often necessitates the use of hard (calcified) tissue such as human dentition and jaw bones for human identification. Persons who have been diseased for some time prior to discovery and those found in water also present unpleasant and difficult visual identification4. Dental identification plays a key role in natural and manmade disaster especially in mass casualties associated with aviation disasters, a situation that has also been highly recurrent in Nigeria in the last two decades.

Victim’s identity may be based on uniqueness of concordant ante mortem and post mortem dental features which often lead to positive recognition or provide convincing proof to rule out a particular identity. Dental identification is based on pathological conditions such as: disturbance of tooth eruption, malocclusions and/or previous dental treatments. Changes brought about by age, pathological conditions, and developmental disturbances or by intervention of the dental surgeon result in the mouth being unique to the individual5.

The objective of this review is to intimate medical and dental practitioners of the crucial role of dentist in victim’s identification and to further motivate relevant trainee dental specialist to consider the scope and career uptake in this unique disciple.

Roles of the forensic dentist
The roles of the forensic dentist include criminal investigation using bite marks, dental cast and saliva analysis; dentists also assist in resolving parental contentions with DNA analysis through a process called genetic fingerprinting. The most common role of a forensic dentist is the identification of deceased persons either for crime resolution or for social, matrimonial, or financial reasons6.

The first and the most frequent investigation is the comparative examination used to establish to a high degree of certainty that the remains of deceased and the person represented by ante mortem dental records are the same individual. In Nigeria, comprehensive fingerprint database and complete ante mortem dental records are most often lacking, so making comparative dental identification almost a mirage. The second investigation is for cases without previous ante mortem records and where no clues to positive identity exist. Under this circumstance, postmortem dental profile is completed by the forensic dentist suggesting characteristics of the individual and so narrowing search of the ante mortem materials7. With the advent of advanced analytical computer software packages, dental biometrics – the matching of ante mortem and postmortem dental radiographs for human identification has come into prominence in instances of unavailable fingerprint or facial features.