A forensic odontologist is a fully licensed dentist who is responsible for examining the teeth of corpses and bite marks on bodies. There are four primary roles for a forensic odontologist: consulting services, expert opinions, teaching, and research. There are very few forensic odontologists, as this is a very specialized skill.
When a human body is discovered and there is no obvious way to identify the person, a forensic odontologist is called. She is responsible for taking a cast or mold of the teeth and jaw from the remains and using this to accurately identify the person according to dental records. The dental records used can vary widely from x-rays taken within the last ten years to fillings or other work that has an identifying mark.
This identification is used to determine the next of kin and start the investigation into the cause of death. Mistakes or carelessness have a huge impact on the surviving family members, police investigation, and theory surrounding the cause of death. Most professional forensic odontologists are consummate professionals who take great care with their work, as they are well aware of the impact of any error.
As a consultant, the forensic dentist can work for several law enforcement agencies providing identification and research services as needed. Upon acceptance of a request, the forensic odontologist is responsible for the entire process, including providing expert witness testimony at any legal proceedings, if necessary. Due to their expertise in teeth, forensic dentists may also be called in to work on human bite marks and determine whom they belong to.
A forensic dentist can provide expert testimony services, as long as he has investigated the teeth mold and can provide definitive answers to questions raised in court. Expert witness testimony is also used to describe how someone is innocent of the charges, due to specific features of the person's bite that eliminates him. Preparation for providing expert testimony includes studying the case file, testifying in court, and being available to answer any follow-up questions, as needed.
Teaching specialized courses at the university level is a common practice for forensic dentists. They may also offer seminars or write books on their area of expertise within this field. Speaking tours of specialized law enforcement or forensic science conferences or meetings is not uncommon. The vast majority of forensic odontologist professionals are actively engaged in research. They may receive funding from technology companies, professional services firms, or dental organizations. There is a wide range of research topics available to a specialist in this field.