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History of oral health

Forensic dentistry

Got an unsolved mystery? Ask a dentist. Over the years, dental records have provided investigators with key evidence to identify people in crimes — whether it’s the victim or the perpetrator. Here are some famous cases where teeth proved to be the smoking gun.

Roman statue Roman statue Roman statue

A.D. 66

One of the earliest examples of dental forensics is a grisly episode dating back to ancient Rome. Agrippina, mother of Roman emperor Nero, sent her soldiers to murder the rich divorcée Lollia Paulina, afraid she might pose a threat. Agrippina demanded her head as proof of her death. When Agrippina was unable to recognize the distorted face, she checked her victim’s mouth for her distinctive teeth.

1775

Early patriot Paul Revere wasn’t just a silversmith and key player in the American Revolution. He was also a dentist and pioneer in dental forensics. He identified the body of his friend Dr. Joseph Warren, when he recognized the dental bridge he had made for Warren.

Paul Revere Paul Revere Paul Revere
John Wilkes Booth John Wilkes Booth John Wilkes Booth

1893

Years after John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln and was then killed by Union soldiers, rumors spread that Booth was still alive. His body was dug up and examined. Among other identifiable features, Booth’s remains revealed an unusual jaw formation. This detail helped a group of experts, including Booth’s former dentist, identify the remains to confirm it was really Booth.

1979

A double bite mark played an important role in convicting Ted Bundy of murder: The notorious serial killer had bitten one of his last victims.

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Today

Dental records continue to be used to identify people in criminal investigations, plane crashes and natural disasters. They can even provide breaks in cold cases.

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