New Automated System Can ID Disaster Victims in Minutes

The team said the system would be available for use in Japan within a year.

Kosuge said the new system could also ease some of the emotional turmoil caused by a mass disaster.

"In Japan -- primarily a Buddhist nation -- tradition dictates that we cremate a deceased loved one within a few days to a week at the most," she said. "Imagine the compounded pain of not only loosing a loved one but then not being able to perform proper funeral proceedings. When our system is employed, no one will know about us, no one will know about our system. What they will know is -- as sad as it was to loose a loved one -- they were still able to properly perform funeral proceedings."

Dr. Norman "Skip" Sperber, chief forensic dentist for California's Department of Justice, said the new technique sounded "very promising and worthwhile.

"This could certainly revolutionize our armament and help us greatly in the event of a mass disaster," he said. "The numbers are very impressive, and the researchers deserve a lot of credit."

But Sperber cautioned that every dental identification system has its limits.

"This method they developed would greatly enhance dealing with mass disasters where bodies were in relatively good condition," he said. "It'll work for traumas that didn't destroy the bodies, or where bodies have decomposed but the teeth are intact, such as in situations involving poison, radiation, a boat disaster, that kind of thing.

"But I was one of the senior people working on identifying people in New York after 9/11, and, based on dental records, we were able to identify only about 1,500 of the 3,000 missing people," Sperber added. "A lot of the bodies were just vaporized. And if you get a trauma like we did in New York, no system is going to work, because there are no teeth left. So, this sounds very good, but it won't help in every situation."

More information

To learn more about forensics and dental records, visit Forensic Dentistry Online.

SOURCES: Eiko Kosuge, D.D.S., dentist, radiologist, lecturer, department of oral and maxillofacial radiology, Kanagawa Dental College, Japan; Norman "Skip" Sperber, D.D.S., chief forensic dentist, Department of Justice, State of California and San Diego and Imperial counties; Nov. 27, 2007, presentation, Radiological Society of North America annual meeting, Chicago

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