How do authorities find the dental records needed to identify deceased people? Is there a database in the sky?
It gives me the creeps to think my X-rays are in a file somewhere in Washington, D.C.
— Meredith L., Medford
We have some good news for you Meredith. Big Brother isn't watching how often you floss.
But we checked with Medford police Lt. Mike Budreau, and it turns out there is a national database called the National Crime Information Center.
"It's a government database," Budreau said. "If somebody wanted to check, that would have to be facilitated through a government law enforcement agency."
But you can rest easy knowing your X-rays aren't simply copied to Washington every time you get a cleaning. Thanks to the magic of Forensic Odentology, which is the science of dentistry used to resolve matters pertaining to law, X-rays aren't necessary; all they need is a code to accurately describe a person's individual mouth.
"Everybody's dental records and basically their teeth can be transcribed in an alphanumeric value," Budreau said.
Of course, the code goes by a much simpler name at the station.
"We just call them dental records," he said.
In the event that police find a skull without DNA or other identifying information, Budreau said, they can submit the dental records information into the database and see whether there's a match.
However, your records aren't in there unless you've been missing more than 30 days.
Budreau said it's labor intensive for dental offices to provide dental records, so they wait until a person is missing to submit it.
"Basically the law enforcement agency that submits a missing-person report will submit DNA and dental records to NCIC," he said. "We do it on cases where the person is missing over 30 days."
Dental records are a valuable tool in determining whether a missing person has been found, according to Budreau.
"It's one of the few ways to identify after DNA and fingerprints are no longer available," he said.
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