How do officals get dental records for ID of bodies?

It’s in every cop movie: They get the remains of some unknown dead person, they take a scan of the jaw, waltz over to the computer, and in a little while have an ID matched to dental records.
I know they futz a lot of the tedious science in these shows, but it got me thinking. How do the cops lay hands on the medical records? How do they even know which medical office to ask for records, or which individual records to ask for?

I’ve always wondered this, too. I don’t even have a regular dentist. I typically go to someone in my insurance plan who can see me when I want, my dental records are scattered over No. Virginia, Maryland, DC, and Oklahoma. I’m doomed to be buried in an unmarked grave.

There would seem to be two obvious ways: ask the next of kin which dentist the person used, or get the name of the insurance company from the person’s employer and get the name of the dentist from the insurance company’s claims forms.

Just to keep things clear, I’ve never seen even a cop show identify a complete John Doe from dental, and certainly never heard of it IRL. It’s a technique that gets used to confirm that a body is who it is believed to be, not a way of getting a name when there isn’t even a hint of identification.

I would have thought this would make it far easier to ID you, assuming your insurance is through your employers or with a major insurance company. I just need to ask them for the company’s name and then ask the company to dig out your claim forms. The dentist’s name and contact deals will be on that from.

And I only need a single adult dental record to give me a very high match.

To clarify, the police usually already have a pretty good guess of who the corpse is, so they just have to confirm that. It’s not like they’re looking through the dental records of everyone in the city hoping to dig up a match.

Ok, but what about the huge number of people who don’t have dental insurance? I’ve paid cash (well, credit card actually) for every one of my dental appointments in the last 10 years. I live alone, and no one in my family could possibly know who my dentist is. Plus I’ve moved a lot. So, how would the police get my dental records if they needed them? :confused:

They probably couldn’t (unless a dentist remembered you as a client). Your burnt and mangled corpse would remain unidentified.

It’s not a sure thing, but if there is no other way to identify the body, the dental records are useful.

I’m not sure there even *are *dental records here. Both times I had to get dental X-rays (at a major hospital BTW, not a small clinic or cabinet), the docs gave me the pictures and told me to bring them back the next time. Once I forgot to, and the planned surgery had to be postponed - I even told them I’d rather leave the X-rays in my local file since I tend to lose or forget things easily, but they didn’t want to because they didn’t trust their filing department and would rather dump that responsibility on me :slight_smile:

The SDSAB speaks

Exactly. There is no national searchable database of dental records (although that day might not be too far off).

I heard a speech once by a forensic pathologist who talked about several cases he’d worked on. In one, a woman had disappeared and her husband insisted she’d just gone away and left him; that seemed pretty unlikely, though, under the circumstances. As it happened, the man had a very complete carpentry workshop. The police got a search warrant and, based on a tip, excavated the couple’s garden. They found a tiny chip of tooth, no bigger than a matchhead, in the soil. It had a very distinctive snaggletooth curve to it. Using the wife’s dental records from when she was an Army nurse, they were able to match that little tooth fragment to the missing woman. The police surmised, based on that and some other evidence, that the man had killed her, chopped her up in his workshop, burned the corpse and rototilled the ash and bony remains into the garden. He was eventually convicted of murder.

That makes a lot more sense. The show that got me wondering about all this was a recent episode of “Fringe,” where they had a complete Jane Doe and ID’d her in a few minutes by cross checking a scan of her jaw against some gigantic database of all dental records everywhere, apparently. The corpse was recent, so there was no time for anyone to file a missing person’s report, and no family to notice she had gone missing. The rest of the episode was about pyrokenesis, so I wasn’t sweating the forensics so much.
But, I’m sure I’ve seen other examples. A “Law and Order” episode pops to mind where they ID another Jane Doe because an old filling indicated she had lived in Germany at some point in her past. Because that narrows it down. Usually, Law and Order’s forensics are fairly good :frowning:

The last x-rays I got were digital. Digital will be much easier to gather into a useful database. Assuming someone pays for it.

Another WAG: if someone has been through the military (as mentioned in an above post) or the correctional system.

If the victim appeared to be a likely candidate for service in the armed forces at some point (ie clean cut, fit young person and a nearby military installation, a male of an age to be a Vietnam vet, a USMC bulldog tat, etc…) the military could be contacted to see if the records were on file.

Although someone like Qadgop would know more about the correctional records availability, I would reckon that they are kept on some kind of file too. Someone with a tat of a prison gang symbol, needle tracks or other indications that they may have gone through the penal system at some point could lead to a request of records from local, state and federal correctional institutions.

Just my $.02. – IRL, it does happen. Albeit rare, creating such a database (nationally) would on average take an extra three minutes for a dental assistant to enter in and may bring much needed closure and validity to suffering family members. After two or three days, cases involving missing persons are not pursued thoroughly; even if the case remains open, say an unidentified body is found three months after the initial report - who’s connecting the dots? It should be a database. I have the utmost respect for law enforcement; I do feel though that such a system can help tremendously. Simply put: criminals’ fingerprints are standardly processed, dental records need be, too. They’re just as telling as a print.

I personally believe that we lack a connection between “the missing’s” and “the john doe’s”. With technology, we should be able to come up with a link. Thoughts?

I’d love to hear feedback.

Well, it’s a massive HIPAA violation, for starters.

(Just curious - what were you searching on to bring up a discussion that’s 4 years old?)

As to HIPAA and medical (dental) privacy, I suppose you could input them all into a national database but have them be anonymous, each with a unique code number. The police could get a warrant to disclose the actual identity of the person if they get a hit after running a search of the database.

zombie or no

even the dead can tell the tooth.

This thread is a little long in the tooth.

You want the tooth?

You can’t handle the tooth!

Son, we live in a world that has oral diseases. And those oral diseases have to be cured by men with sharp, painful instruments. Who’s gonna do it? You?

Still cutting edge.