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How do authorities identify someone through dental records?

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IDAHO FALLS – The remains of a missing Montpelier woman were discovered in Mill City, Nevada last month. Authorities later identified her as 55-year-old Christine Passey Parker, which they were able to determine through dental records. reported this information in a story dated Feb. 27, 2024.
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On the day it was published, an user sent us an email asking how officials are able to identify someone through dental records.
“I’ve always wondered how police go about that,” the person wrote. “Are teeth, like fingerprints, one-of-a-kind? Is there a national registry of teeth? I assume in this case they probably contacted a relative to find her dentist and compare his records, but in cases where there is no possible ID, how does it work?”
It’s an interesting question and we decided to look into it.
In a conversation with, Fremont County Coroner Brenda Dye explains any DNA evidence is helpful in identifying someone. Law enforcement and other officials will first try to identify them through photographs. If the remains are beyond the point of recognition, DNA samples such as bones, fingerprints or hair can be used to make a positive ID.
Only when no other form of identification is available would dental records be used, which is often a difficult task. Unlike fingerprints, there isn’t an FBI database for people’s teeth so the only way dental records can be obtained is by contacting the individual’s dentist.
Confirming the person’s identity isn’t typically handled on the county level. The dental records are sent to a medical examiner in Ada County for analysis.
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Dye recalls a case she was involved in where someone’s remains were found. The jaw and teeth were still intact, which was the only remaining DNA.
“In our case, we suspected who it was but didn’t know for sure and that’s why we did it through dental records,” Dye says.
Dye says it’s surprising what people can learn about a person by their teeth.
“You can tell the type of water (they drank) by what it does to their teeth,” she says. “From that, they can tell (what part of the country you’re from).”
While fingerprints have a certain pattern that is unique to every person, Dye says that isn’t necessarily the case with teeth. There might be genealogical factors authorities can look for, but relying solely on dental records to identify someone is much more difficult than other methods.

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Bannock County Prosecutor Torey Danner has never used dental records to identify someone. He says “it’s more work than it’s worth” and there’s no definite way to tell who it is. It’s helpful to at least have some idea of who you think it is before tracking down dental records, he says.
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“If I haven’t had any dental work done, there’s nothing to compare (the remains to),” Danner says. “It’s much easier to talk to a family member and get a familial buccal swab (DNA from the cells on the inside of a person’s cheek) and do a DNA comparison.”
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Danner was involved in collecting DNA samples for the Downard Funeral Home case. Fingerprints are one method that was used to identify bodies in that case.
Once a body has started to decompose, he says collecting fingerprints can also be difficult.
“What they’ll end up doing is rehydrating (the tips of your fingers) to get fingerprints,” he says. “There are different techniques you can utilize to be able to get fingerprints.”
But not everyone’s fingerprints are in a database, so it’s not always a reliable form of identification either.
Ultimately, Danner says determining which DNA to use to identify someone boils down to how reliable it’s going to be.
The post How do authorities identify someone through dental records? appeared first on East Idaho News.

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