Dental Evidence as a Sole Human Identifier in World Disasters: A Literature Review with Emphasis on the 2004 Tsunami Disaster

Suhail H. Al-Amad


Comparative dental analysis is a quick and relatively simple human identification method. In many disaster incidents, dental characteristics have played an important role in establishing the identity of victims when they were visually unidentifiable. A PubMed search was conducted for publications that specifically discussed the role of dental characteristics in Disaster Victim Identification (DVI). Between 1974 and 2012, 14 papers described 17 disasters in which dental characteristics were used to identify the victims. The percentage of victims identified using only dental characteristics ranged from 0% to 89%. This wide range largely depends on the availability and quality of ante mortem dental records provided by dentists. The DVI in Thailand following the Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004 was unique in involving deceased tourists from more than 30 countries, mostly from Europe. The dental method of identification showed superiority over other identification methods in terms of speed and accuracy of establishing the victims’ identity. This paper discusses the role of forensic odontology in establishing the identity of disaster victims, with specific emphasis on the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami as an example of good practice, during which the author had first-hand experience.


Forensic Sciences, Forensic Odontology, Disaster Victim Identification, Dental Characteristics

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