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While forensic odontology can be an extremely helpful tool, it must also be taken with a grain of salt. It can be extremely beneficial in identifications of victims of mass disasters, in age determination of victims or human remains in archaeological digs, or in identifying sexual abuse, especially within adolescents. However, forensic odontologists maintain that even such evidence in these cases must be accompanied by other compelling evidence, and that dental evidence cannot stand on its own.

Dental mold used as evidence in the case of Keith Allen HarwardA dental mold used as evidence in the case of Keith Allen Harward.

Bite mark analysis is much more akin to an artform than science and must therefore be heavily accompanied by other convincing and infallible evidence. It seems perfectly reasonable that forensic odontologists may have been extremely excited over the possibilities of the relatively new science, especially after its success in convicting Ted Bundy in 1979 and 1980. However, the use of bite mark analysis in criminal cases was applied too liberally following these convictions, especially in the 1980s, and have therefore seen quite a few convictions overturned. Using bite mark analysis as a basis for dental evidence should only be permissible if other dental evidence, such as saliva, is left behind and can be definitively identified.

While dental forensics is not as conclusive as other forensic sciences such as fingerprinting, it can help nudge officials in the correct direction, and provide additional evidence in cases such as Bundy’s.

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Guest Curator Hannah Thompson is a graduate of Clemson University with a Bachelor of Arts in History. She is currently pursuing her Master of Arts in Public History with a Museum Studies concentration at the University of South Carolina. She is interested in curating and historical research, completed this exhibit as part of the curatorial internship at the museum. When not completing history research, Hannah enjoys spending time with her family, reading, and baking.


All images used in Forensic Odontology: An Overview and Bite Mark Controversy, unless otherwise stated, are believed to be in the public domain due to their date of creation, no known information about the creator of the work, and no known published works containing use of the image within a time period that would allow for claiming of copyright ownership of the works according to established copyright laws.

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The Dr. Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry is an auxiliary enterprise of the University of Maryland, School of Dentistry at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

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