Identifying disaster victims by means of dental records is a well-established technique. In cases in which high temperatures are involved, destruction of the structural relationship of the dentition necessitates that adjunctive aids be used in the identification process. Analysis of tooth fragments by means of scanning electron microscopy with energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy can reveal evidence of restorative procedures, as well as trace amounts of dental materials remaining on tooth surfaces. In addition, dental materials can be analyzed and identified according to brand, even if the materials have been cremated.
The authors describe the identification of three victims from the crash of Colgan Air flight 3407, a commuter airplane flying between Newark, N.J., and Buffalo, N.Y. The crash involved a fire, and a portion of the airplane burned for nearly 11 hours. Dental fragments that had restorative material adhering to them were recovered and analyzed. These fragments contained corroborative information that helped confirm the identity of the victims.
Detailed record keeping is part of clinical practice. The level of detail present in dental records can affect the ability of forensic odontologists to determine the identity of a victim's remains. Documenting the brand names of dental materials used in restorative procedures can make the difference between identifying and not identifying a victim's remains.