Forensic Odontologist - How to Become a Forensic Odontologist

Forensic Odontologist

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Forensic Odontologist Job Description


Forensic odontologists, who are also called forensic dentists, use their highly specialized training for many kinds of crime-related analysis. This includes identifying remains based on their dental work, matching bite marks to a specific individual or suspect, and providing expert testimony when dental malpractice is alleged.

Often they find themselves working alongside coroners, medical examiners, and police, using their skills to complete a wide range of tasks, including:

  • Determining the age of a skeleton

  • Identifying remains lacking fingerprints or facial recognition

  • Determining the identity of people killed in airplane crashes or other disasters

  • Sourcing a victim's bite mark injuries

These forensic professionals are likely to be called to testify on behalf of the state during criminal proceedings to explain their findings and defend their conclusions. As a result, they must be highly organized and accurate in the documentation of their findings.

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Responsibilities

 

A forensic odontologist's work involves careful application of scientific and medical techniques, patiently and thoroughly, to finding all pertinent evidence without bias. Fine motor skills, extreme attention to detail, long and painstaking work, and extreme accuracy are all indispensable. Microscopes, computers, and other complex technology play a major role in the modern forensic odontologist's efforts. All records must be accurate and complete.

They attend autopsies to take dental impressions, x-rays, and other measurements to match a body to missing persons. Bite marks on a victim or suspect, chewing gum, food, or other items are analyzed by these experts to identify or exclude a person as the source of the bite.

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Skills

 

Communication

Must effectively communicate with your co-workers to ensure the best care and the proper procedures. Must be able to communicate in high-stress environments.

Active Listening

Offering your full attention to an individual person or group in order to fully understand problems and their nature.

Critical Thinking

Must use logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems.

Judgment and Decision Making

Needs to be able to act autonomously and make difficult decisions that would benefit the patient or make corrections. Must consider all benefits and repercussions of potential actions and choose the appropriate one. 

Complex Problem Solving

Must be able to identify complex problems and develop and evaluate corrective options and implement solutions. 

Stress Management

Must be able to endure intense situations and handle pressure that comes with extreme situations you may encounter.

Trustworthiness

Must be trustworthy because you have people's lives in your hands and what you do could help or hurt them. They are entrusted with a great responsibility and must live up to it. 

Perceptiveness

Gauging how people react and read their body language to decipher their feelings and predict their actions. They must be able to determine if people could be a risk to themselves or others and to distinguish truths from lies.

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Working Conditions

 

Forensic odontologists typically work as career dentists also, providing their forensic services only when required by the coroner or local law enforcement. Sometimes, they must work at a crime scene or disaster scene, but most forensic dentistry is carried out during an autopsy.

A forensic odontologist must be on call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, ready to offer their professional assistance whenever a crime or disaster occurs. This includes readiness to work on holidays, weekends, and at night. Working with crime or disaster victims can be emotionally stressful.

 


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How to Become a Forensic Odontologist:

 

 1. Earn a Bachelor's Degree (4 Years)

 

Just as with aspiring dentists and physicians, students must prepare themselves in the best way possible for medical school by completing a premed program. Due to the competitive nature of graduate medical programs, students should aim to maintain a GPA of 3.5 or higher for the best chances of admission into their school of their choosing.

 

The preparation timeline below provides an example premed curriculum:

 

Grade Level

Example Courses

Freshman Year

 

  • Health Care Systems

  • Biology I & Lab

  • Biology II & Lab

  • Calculus I

  • Chemistry I & Lab

  • Chemistry II & Lab

  • English I

  • Psychology 

  • Humanities Requirements

  • Electives

Sophomore Year

  • Public Health

  • Anatomy & Physiology I & Lab

  • Anatomy & Physiology II & Lab

  • Statistics

  • Organic Chemistry I & Lab

  • Organic Chemistry II & Lab

  • Basic Skills for Healthcare

  • Nutrition

  • Humanities Requirements

  • Electives

Junior Year

 

  • Healthcare Communication

  • Healthcare Professional Writing

  • Genetics & Microbiology I & Lab

  • Physics I & Lab

  • Physics II & Lab

  • Problems in Healthcare

  • Healthcare Research

  • Biochemistry I & Lab

  • Humanities Requirements

  • Electives

Senior Year

  • Health in the US

  • Health Education and Planning

  • Healthcare Management

  • Health Policy

  • Capstone

  • Remaining Requirements

  • Remaining Electives

 

 2. Take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)

 

To be admitted into medical school, candidates must first take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), a 7.5 hour, standardized, multiple choice exam used to assess the applicant's knowledge of science, reasoning, communication, and writing skills.

 

The MCAT is divided into four sections:

 

Section/Category

 Section Breakdown

Biological & Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems

  • 59 multiple-choice questions

  • 95 minutes

  • Tests biology, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, and biochemistry

Chemical & Physical Foundations of Biological Systems

  • 59 multiple-choice questions

  • 95 minutes

  • Tests biochemistry, biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics

Psychological, Social, & Biological Foundations of Behavior

  • 59 multiple-choice questions

  • 95 minutes

  • Tests introductory psychology, sociology, and biology

Critical Analysis & Reasoning Skills

  • 53 multiple-choice questions

  • 90 minutes

  • Tests reading comprehension, humanities, and social sciences

 

MCAT Study Materials, Registration, & More

 

3. Earn a Medical Degree (4 Years)

 

All forensic odontologists are also dentists, meaning they must earn a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DDM) or Doctor of Dental Science (DDS) degree as a prerequisite to their forensic career. 

Considerable extra training is also needed along with practical experience, typically earned alongside a seasoned forensic professional.

A list of accredited medical education programs is available through the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME). For more information and advice on successfully getting into medical school, you can check with the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Medical school consists of four years of studying the basics in science and participating in clinical “rotations.” These are hands-on clinical experiences in real health care settings. In most med schools, the first two years are taken up with classroom studies before students are assigned to do rotations. The current trend, however, finds a number of medical schools exposing students to early clinical experiences that continue throughout the four-year program.

Most medical schools base their curriculum on a system-based approach that focuses on one physiological system at a time, such as the respiratory system or the nervous system. Still others may use a case-based curriculum that teaches about the human body’s normal functioning and disease processes by assigning students to following individual patient cases from start to finish. Still other med schools use a combination of these approaches to educate their students.

The most common lines of coursework among medical schools consist of the following subjects:

  • Anatomy

  • Biochemistry

  • Ethics

  • Pharmacology

  • Physiology

  • Psychology

During the last two years of schooling, students are required to obtain hands-on experience at hospitals and clinics, learning to diagnose and treat patients while working under the supervision of licensed physicians.

Upon completion of four years of med school, a student is awarded a medical degree, or M.D. Another popular trend is for schools to offer combination degree programs, such as MD/MPH, MD/PHD or MD/JD. The AAMC’s website on Medical School Admission Requirements offers more information on this option.

 

The preparation timeline below provides an example Doctor of Dental Medicine curriculum:

 

Grade Level

Example Courses

Year 1

 

  • Preclinical Dentistry

  • Molecular Genetics

  • Anatomical Science I

  • Anatomical Science II

  • Oral Biology I

  • Oral Diagnosis & Radiology I

  • Ethics Development

  • Evidence-Based Dentistry

  • Biochemistry

  • Biomaterials I

  • Physiology

  • Microbiology & Immunology

  • General Pathology

  • Professional Experience Clerkship

Year 2

  • Endodontics

  • Preclinical Endodontics

  • Pharmacology

  • Oral Biology II

  • Oral Diagnosis & Radiology II

  • Pain Control I

  • Preclinical Pediatric Dentistry

  • Periodontology I

  • Preventive Dentistry

  • Behavioral Science

  • Preclinical Operative Dentistry

  • Removable Prosthodontics I

  • Fixed Prosthodontics I

  • Occlusion

  • Operative Dentistry

  • Biomaterials II

Year 3

 

  • Oral Medicine

  • Orthodontics

  • Oral Surgery

  • Pain Control II

  • Oral Pathology

  • Pediatric Dentistry

  • Periodontology II

  • Clinical Dentistry

  • Treatment Planning

  • Implantology

  • Fixed Prosthodontics II

  • Removable Prosthodontics II

  • Gerontology & Geriatric Dentistry

  • Health Care Law

Year 4

  • Removable Prosthodontics II

  • Fixed Prosthodontics II

  • Operative Dentistry II

  • Treatment Planning II

  • Clinical Endodontics

  • Practice Management

  • Clinical Periodontology II

  • Clinical Pediatric Dentistry

  • Clinical Oral Surgery

  • Clinical Oral Diagnosis & Radiology

 

4. Earn the Required Certification

 

The American Board of Forensic Odontology (ABFO), part of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS), offers board certification. This is only open to specialists who pass a test after earning 350 qualification points through professional development programs, and work at least 25 cases.

 

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Salary Outlook