Forensic dentistry may be defined as that branch of forensic medicine that applies dental knowledge to civil and criminal problems. The military simply expands this definition to include the unique needs of the military services. While it is true that our primary mission is to support requests for aid in forensic dental identification, you must understand that dental identification is only one of a number of major areas in forensic dentistry. These include: dental identification, bite mark analysis, human abuse and neglect, dental malpractice and negligence, and dental anthropology and archaeology.
As a basic dental assistant, your primary duties will be assisting dental officers and civilian dentists with the dental identification section in forensic dentistry when directed. The other major areas in forensic dentistry will not be covered in this book because they pertain mainly to dental officers and dentists.
The primary reason we in the Navy have been directed to establish a forensic dental identification (ID) capability is to assure our ability to assist in the ID of human remains. In most cases this means identifying members of the Armed Forces, but occasionally it may include civilians. We are tasked to do this to meet both the civilian needs and the unique military needs for positive ID of individuals. The first four of these needs are common to both the military and civilian communities and include estate, insurance, legal, and psychological considerations. The last two needs are military considerations and include manpower and intelligence needs.
Positive ID is necessary to allow probate of the last will and testament and transfer of any inheritance to the deceased's next of kin. Without positive ID, this process could be delayed until the person is declared legally dead, or up to 7 years.
Positive ID also is necessary to allow survivors to properly claim any life insurance held by the victim. Again, if a positive ID is not accomplished, the payment of insurance to the beneficiaries could be delayed for years. This would defeat the purpose for buying the policy in the first place and could deny any survivors the funds needed to adjust to the loss of the provider's income.
A less common but important consideration is the possibility of legal action such as malpractice or wrongful death litigation. Obviously, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to prove wrongful death in a court of law if one cannot prove that an individual is dead. This would not only eliminate any possibility for compensation for loss of a loved one, but also could affect the legal handling of the deceased's estate as well as payment of any life insurance benefits.
The last of the common needs is the psychological aspect of an individual's death. The loss of a loved one is frequently psychologically devastating to those left behind. In fact, many persons are not able to accept the death of their child, parent, or spouse until long after the occasion. Not knowing positively their loved one is dead complicates this process leading to false hopes and preventing the survivors from getting on with their lives. A graphic example of this was the tremendous agony experienced by the next of kin of our Vietnam missing in action.
Simply stated, you need to know who the causalities are so you can rapidly replace them. If we do not know who the Sailors are, it will be impossible to replace them with persons of similar training and skills in their areas of expertise to restore full combat readiness.Continue Reading