Growth is a complex and dynamic process of different physiological (body’s normal function) systems such as skeletal (bone) system and dentition (teeth) that pass through a series of changes, eventually arriving at maturity. Subsequently, changes occur in adulthood as well and are reflected in teeth. These physiological systems, however, mature at a rate different from the chronological age (calendar age) in different individuals. Still, when chronological age is unknown or disputed, physiological changes that occur in the body can be used to derive age since there is a correlation between the two. Various other criteria such as bone length, secondary sexual characters and dentition can be applied either separately or together to assess the age of the individual.
Age estimation of children, adolescents and adults are sometimes states of majority and criminal liability. Therefore, the main objective of dental forensics in age estimation is to apply teeth and other oral (mouth) parts as useful predictors of age in the above age group, particularly because of their relative accuracy and also because of the lack of other reliable predictors in this age group.
Historically, teeth eruption was first used as an indicator of age in England, when the Factory Act of 1837 prohibited a child without a second permanent molar from working in factories.
Triratana et al. in 1990 pointed out that environmental factors play lesser role in dental development than general physical development.
Townsend and Hammel in 1990 showed that dental eruption sequence in children, i.e, the number of teeth present in the mouth, is significantly independent of the environmental influence and can provide a more accurate and unbiased age estimation than bone measurements.
Bernhard and Glocker in 1995 demonstrated that there is no acceleration in the development of the permanent dentition during the course of centuries, the results suggest that human dentition is primarily genetically determined.
Therefore, this states that dental development is well buffered, being comparatively unaffected by nutrition and environmental factors.
Each age estimation method is presented by many scientific classifications by their methodology and procedures. This results in limitations on similarity, robustness and confirmation. Therefore a common normalisation, positioning and analysis approach of each age estimation method is necessary which is very much taken care in all aspects of age estimation stages like questions to be answered, appropriate method, case material, analysis of results and ethical issues by all experts who are involved in age estimation methods. The word method here denotes how the dental age is correlated to calendar age.
Hence the age estimation methods are quality controlled by methods being presented in the scientific community, published in peer-reviewed journals, clear information about the method accuracy made available, and scientifically accurate and clearing medical ethics and legal procedures in age estimation in living individuals.
Age Estimation: Clinical Vs Forensic Method
Humans have two generations of teeth: deciduous teeth and permanent teeth. The two events used to measure dental age in children, adolescents and adults are tooth emergence in the mouth and tooth calcification (seen in radiographs). The tooth emergence in the mouth involves visual assessment and is accepted in deciduous sets of teeth whose eruption is controlled by genes. On the other hand emergence of permanent teeth in the mouth in clinical aspects is influenced by intraoral (mouth) environment, infection, arch space, premature tooth loss and retained deciduous tooth. Therefore evaluating through radiograph by a dental forensic method using a series of tooth calcification stages is a much better alternative for age estimation than other clinical methods.
Teeth as Age Predictors
- Each tooth undergoes a long span of tooth development, emergence, shedding and maturation in an orderly and sequential process.
- Dentition shows uniform development from birth to late adolescence.
- The fundamental growth and developmental process are similar in all teeth.
Thus, teeth can be used as better age predictors and fortunately persons with even no teeth can also be estimated for age using dental forensics.
- The method here involves mostly living persons.
- It uses radiograph- Full mouth radiograph or single to three teeth x-ray.
- Radiograph is a non-invasive, simple and easy method.
- Further this method credits with affordable price and quick results.
Human age is a measure expressed in years of the period lived since birth. Dental age can be expressed as most likely age with age range. The age range of fewer than three years and 3- 10 years are considered excellent and acceptable respectively in forensics. This is due to the variations seen among different groups of people in different geographical areas which is inevitable. Sometimes probability of age can be estimated in situations like child labour whether the child has attained 14 years of age or not which is the pension age for claiming retirement benefits, claiming social benefits etc.
- Full mouth x-ray- Rs. 400- 500.
- Single to three teeth x-ray- Rs. 150-200.
- Consulting fees and travel expenses (in cases out of native town) can be negotiated at the time of getting cases.
Figure 2 - Full Mouth X-ray
Figure 2 - Three-Four Teeth X-Ray
Single case- Maximum 2- 3 days and accordingly.
Therefore, dental age is one of the few measures that is uniformly applicable from birth to late adolescence. After attaining maturity, teeth continue to undergo changes, making age estimation possible in adults. Thus dentition in age estimation can be considered a better age predictor whose maturation is controlled by genes rather than long bones whose maturation is influenced by nutrition and environmental factors rather than genes.
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