How to Become a Forensic Odontologist

Forensic odontologists are usually also practicing dentists.
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If you think the standard approach to dentistry bites, look into practicing as a forensic odontologist. A forensic odontologist assists in law enforcement investigations by identifying individuals from dental records and identifying the source of bite wound or marks on objects. Forensic odontologists are board certified by the American Board of Forensic Odontology once they have developed a high professional level of skill.

    Step 1

    Obtain a dental degree -- such as a Doctor of Medical Dentistry or Doctor of Dental Surgery -- and license to practice dentistry. Demonstrate high moral and ethical standards during your practice of dentistry, as a requirement for board certification by the ABFO.

    Step 2

    Attend at least four annual meetings in the field of forensic odontology, such as meetings by the American Society of Forensic Odontology. Only one meeting per year may be counted. You must participate in at least two of these conferences by presenting research, acting as a moderator, serving on a panel or helping with activities on a committee.

    Step 3

    Associate and actively participate with a medical or legal agency -- such as a law enforcement agency, medical examiner, insurance agency or mass disaster team -- for at least two years.

    Step 4

    Observe at least five complete autopsies under supervision of the head pathologist.

    Step 5

    Work on at least 35 legitimate forensic dental cases. These cases must include 20 human identification cases with at least 15 resulting in a positive identification. Five cases must include a dissection of the jaw. You must personally take the postmortem radiographs -- X-ray images of the teeth and jaw -- for 10 cases. You may include up to five cases from an approved workshop toward your total.

    Step 6

    Act as the lead investigator in five dental age estimation cases. At least one of these cases must come from your own casework, i.e, you cannot simply assist another investigator for all of your cases. These cases must include age estimation from a child, an adolescent and an adult.

    Step 7

    Complete two cases of bitemark identification in which the bitemark was identified to be of human origin. For example, police may have identified bite marks on a cadaver, a weapon used in a crime or household objects found at a crime scene. Many of these may be unrelated, such as from a family pet, but some may come from known or unknown suspects in a crime. You must be primary investigator on at least one of these cases. Submit documentation of five additional bitemark identification cases.

    Step 8

    Provide documentation of two cases in which you presented sworn legal testimony involving forensic odontology.

    Step 9

    Demonstrate additional expertise in forensic odontology.

    Step 10

    Apply for and complete the comprehensive written examination administered by the ABFO. After having your qualifications approved, you have 15 months to schedule your examination. The entire process for becoming a board-certified forensic odontologist may be completed over a short or long period of time; however, the requirements ensure you have spent at least four years in practice to qualify for the examination. The qualifications may be completed over any period of time, as long as you remain actively involved with a medical or legal agency throughout this time.

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