Author(s): Pretty IA
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Abstract Forensic dentistry is the union of two scientific disciplines, both of which are undergoing a renewed scientific rigor. In forensic science the advent of the Daubert ruling has required that judges assess the forensic value of 'expert testimony' ensuring that techniques, methodologies and practices are not only commonly accepted (as was the previous hurdle during the Frye era) but that error rates, assessment of reliability and validation studies are published to support their use. This new degree of judicial scrutiny has been mirrored in the field of dentistry itself, where organisations search and summarise randomised controlled trials in order to recommend best practice and devise clinical care pathways that are firmly grounded in proven scientific research. Despite the obvious drive from both of these professions, forensic dentistry, and in particular the sub-discipline of bitemark analysis, has been remarkably slow to address the obvious deficiencies in the evidence base that underpins this element of forensic science. Reviews of the literature reveal that the vast majority of published works are case reports, and very little primary literature exists. This paper reviews those studies that have assessed aspects of bitemark analysis including the crucial issue of the uniqueness of the human dentition; the application of transparent overlays and the application of statistical probabilities in bitemark conclusions. There are numerous barriers to undertaking high quality research in the field of bitemark analysis, the most important of which is the use of a gold-standard that is acceptable both in terms of diagnostic research but is also forensically relevant. If bitemark analysis is to continue to play a role in the judicial process then there is an urgent need for high quality studies that meet the levels of forensic and scientific scrutiny applied to other disciplines within the criminal justice system. Studies are required to determine not that the human dentition is unique, but how this asserted uniqueness is represented on human skin and other substrates. The error rates associated with the analysis of bitemarks are required on a procedural level as well as an individual practitioner basis and scales and interpretative indices of bitemark severity and forensic significance should be validated and introduced into common use.
This article was published in Forensic Sci Int
and referenced in Journal of Forensic Research