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J Forensic Sci. 2008 Mar;53(2):412-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1556-4029.2007.00653.x. Epub 2008 Feb 19.

Identification of incinerated root canal filling materials after exposure to high heat incineration.

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Department of Periodontics and Endodontics, School of Dental Medicine, SUNY at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY 14214, USA.


With the increase in global terrorism there is a higher probability of having to identify victims of incineration events secondary to incendiary explosive devices. The victims of incineration events challenge forensic odontologists when coronal restorations are no longer present to compile postmortem data. With 40 million root canals being completed annually in the United States, a very large pool of antemortem data is available to the forensic odontologist to make positive identifications. When complete and thorough dental records exist, individuals that have undergone surgical and nonsurgical root canal therapy may have materials present in the canal that may aid in identification. This study provides elemental fingerprints of root canal obturation materials to be utilized as a forensic identification aid. This study used scanning electron microscopy/energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (SEM/EDS) to assess the elemental composition of materials before and after high temperature incineration. Sixteen endodontic materials were analyzed pre-incineration and placed in extracted teeth. The filled teeth were subjected to incineration at 900 degrees C for 30 min to simulate incineration events or cremation. Incinerated materials were radiographed and re-analyzed to determine if they retained their original elemental composition. Endodontic sealers, gutta percha, root-end filling materials, silver points, and separated files were distinguishable in the canal and traceable after incineration. The authors present a fingerprint of the endodontic obturation materials that are capable of withstanding high heat incineration to be used as an aid for postmortem identification. This work represents the initial stage of database generation for root canal filling materials for use as an aid in forensic identification.

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