Bite marks are biting the bullet

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1. Not-biting-the-bulletNew research from Canisius College in the US shows that it may be time for forensic bite-mark analysis to bite the dust.

Professor H. David Sheets, PhD, is taking to task two very serious assumptions under which forensic odontology has been operating. Sheets is now questioning whether all individuals have completely unique bite marks “similar to fingerprints,” he said, as is commonly believed. Sheets is further querying whether human skin—where bite marks are most commonly found to be useful forensic evidence—can preserve an accurate record of a bite mark.

Bite marks are a commonly used form of evidence for prosecution and are considered firm forensic substantiation. Yet, according to Sheets, this shouldn’t be the case.

“People assume that it’s close to fingerprints in terms of accuracy,” said Sheets. “But the notions that a person’s dentition is unique, or that the human skin can accurately record an individual’s bite mark have never been validated scientifically.”

With the help of colleagues from the University of Buffalo—Mary A. Bush, DDS, and Peter J. Bush—Sheets has found that the accuracy of bite-marks as a key identifier of a single individual is rather tenuous.

The team examined hundreds of bite marks in the skin of cadavers and over 1,000 dentitions matching bite marks to impressions.

“When the dental alignments were similar, it was difficult to distinguish exactly which set of teeth made which bites,” said Sheets. “That tells us that a single bite mark is not distinct enough to be linked to a specific individual. It can actually point to many different individuals.” Their studies show that bite marks may lead to inaccurate identifications of those sentenced in criminal proceedings.

“This is an example of where science can help prevent future wrongful convictions and perhaps even provide some social justice to those already convicted,” said Sheets.

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