Saturday, February 27, 2010

Piece work

Carolyn Friedman of the Forensic Scientist Blog sends notice of an article called "8 Body Parts Forensic Scientists Use to ID a Body."

I'd say six of them surprised me at least mildly. See how many you can guess before you read the article.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

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34 Comments:

Blogger Margot Kinberg said...

Peter - This is really interesting! Thanks for sharing it.

February 27, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

I actually did pretty well on this. I'd say more, but I've already been the spoiler on post to many over here, so I'll refrain.

February 27, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You're welcome, Margot. This sort of thing is of near-universal interest to crime-fiction fans, readers and authors, I'd say. I wonder how many additional body parts could make it onto the list.

February 28, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, you've been a spoiler on just one post, and I admit that I've forgotten which it was, which means you're forgiven.

There are probably no shockers on the list, but also probably just two that everyone would know. What's interesting, I think, is that most of us who know them acquired this knowledge from crime stories or TV shows.

February 28, 2010  
Blogger Jose Ignacio Escribano said...

Peter I also missed 6. I could only think before hand of teeth and bones.

February 28, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I expected everyone to guess ------------ and many to guess -----. Number 8 was a bit of a surprise, and I have seen 6 used in at least one crime novel. I would not have guessed it, though, because the heading on 6 in the quiz is a bit misleading.

February 28, 2010  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

I can't stand the thought of teeth before breakfast, but the young patient whose radiograph is shown may have wisdom tooth problems in the future. ;0) Excellent teeth though probably North American, and they may have had orthodontic treatment.
Actually the X rays are a bit blurred but I tried to be a Holmesian forensic dentist.

February 28, 2010  
Blogger Philip said...

I am very, very impressed, Norman. I have not the foggiest how you sussed out any of that. I'd be grateful, though, if you could avoid mention of wisdom teeth in future posts and comments, as these are things I try to keep out of mind. I had the pleasure some years back of lying helpless in the chair of a new dentist while she and a quasi-colleague (working under supervision in order to get re-registered after getting struck off for alcohol-induced incompetence, I later learned) stood behind me talking about my three submerged wisdoms and how it might be nifty of remove one of them poised a mm away from a nerve, notwithstanding that the operation involved might leave half my finely chiselled chops permanently palsied. I thought myself that it might be nifty to find another dentist, and I've been trying not to think about those mandibular and maxillary time bombs ever since.

All this raises a question -- are there any crime fiction novels in which dentists loom large? Maxine had a post about a work by Susan Isaacs in which "...a local dentist and stud..." (getting close to home here, Norman) is found murdered, but the only villainous dentist I can recall is in Ruth Rendell's The Best Man to Die, and I've never come across the dentist-as-detective.

February 28, 2010  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Philip, I blame the designer who put the Inferior Dental Nerve canal so close to the roots of the third mandibular molar. It sounds as if you had a lucky escape. The ID nerve difficult to get numb on occasions, but very easy to bruise or even sever during a wisdom tooth extraction.

February 28, 2010  
Blogger seana said...

Yikes. I try not to think about teeth before breakfast too, but now I'm feeling nerves in teeth I didn't know existed.

There was a good little movie called Novocaine with Steve Martin playing a dentist caught up in a crime. And that's not even mentioning His Little Shop of Horrors musical dental stint.

February 28, 2010  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Excellent deduction, Norman!

Peter, I guessed six, but as I have skimmed this article a few weeks ago, you could say I should have remembered them all.

February 28, 2010  
Blogger Philip said...

Thank you, Norman -- I like to understand these things if I can. There has occurred to me a tie-in with the post. In a crime movie entitled The Whole Nine Yards, not much enjoyed by me, a central character is a dentist who uses implants to alter the teeth of a dead man so as to match those of a character who wishes to disappear, the body then put in a car and torched. This struck me as exceedingly implausible a ploy, but perhaps I am wrong, Norman?

February 28, 2010  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Not an easy procedure in my opinion as teeth are so individual a feature almost like fingerprints.

February 28, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I can't stand the thought of teeth before breakfast, but the young patient whose radiograph is shown may have wisdom tooth problems in the future. ;0) Excellent teeth though probably North American, and they may have had orthodontic treatment.
Actually the X rays are a bit blurred but I tried to be a Holmesian forensic dentist.


That's an impressive set of deductions, Uriah. Let me see if I can follow your reasoning.

Young because only two lower molars. Excellent teeth because the even white indicates no crowns, fillings or other restoration, and possible wisdom-tooth problems because number 17 appears to be giving number 19 a little nudge?

I once read an article in Scientific American about dental genetics and demography. Can you tell with only a lateral view of the teeth where the victims ancestors may have originated? And how can you tell that the vic— er, the patient may have had orthodontic treatment?

February 28, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Philip, I was so buzzed after I had my one troublesome wisdom tooth removed that I walked happily out of the dentist's office without my wallet. I had not gone too far before I returned and retrieved it, its plenitude intact.

Another dental procedure gave me interesting insights into laughing gas and consciousness, and my recent root canal and dental implant went off flawlessly and without pain. The executor of the latter has exquisite skill and chairside manner as well as a sense of humor that once produced a discussion of Marathon Man while I was in the chair.

February 28, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I blame the designer who put the Inferior Dental Nerve canal so close to the roots of the third mandibular molar.

Ah, theology! An argument against intelligent design! (Some people care about such things in America.)

February 28, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, if you don't like to think about teeth before breakfast, you could try my expedient of sleeping late and skipping breakfast.

February 28, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dorte, Norman has the advantage over us. A dentist who retired from his profession to devote himself to crime fiction and who lives near Dartmoor? He sounds like the lead character of an English village mystery waiting to happen.

February 28, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Norman, one of Richard Stark's Parker novels includes a villain who had a capsule of poison (cyanide, I think) implanted in a tooth so he could commit suicide if captured. At the appropriate moment, the book has him wrenching his jaw hard and taking the poison.

Does this sound plausible to you? And have there been any recorded cases in real life?

February 28, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

a sense of humor that once produced a discussion of Marathon Man while I was in the chair

You obviously have a very robust sense of humour, Peter. I would have thought a dentist discussing Marathon Man while you're in the chair would be akin to a pilot regaling you tales of aviation disasters while you're somewhere over the Atlantic.

February 28, 2010  
Blogger Philip said...

I don't think the importance of humour in a dentist's surgery can be overstated, Peter. I always make sure my sense of humour is well-primed and at its most irreverent when I visit. It helps everyone, lightens the atmosphere, but I think in particular it takes a burden off the dentist. They have the highest suicide rate of all the professions, and spending all day knowing you may have to cause at least some degree of pain to people who are often scared witless and look it (men are especially given to the gibbering wreck routine, I gather) must be singularly hard on many practitioners. Norman might have insights to share on that.

But your mention of laughing gas reminds me of an odd thing. I knew about and met once a young dentist who did his hardest work in the evenings. Customarily hung over, he would start his working day with a few hearty breathings of the nitrous oxide, and not many years later when he was diagnosed with Parkinson's and this habit came out, he was told that the N2O might well be the cause. I thought that strange until I read that Parkinson's researchers had concluded that NO, nitric oxide, is a factor in Parkinson's, which put a different face on it. A lesson there for people too much disposed to muck around with funny old laughing gas.

My verification word is 'dente', as I live and breathe.

February 28, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You obviously have a very robust sense of humour, Peter. I would have thought a dentist discussing Marathon Man while you're in the chair would be akin to a pilot regaling you tales of aviation disasters while you're somewhere over the Atlantic.

I may have started the discussion. But it did occur to me as I underwent all these procedures that a relaxed chairside manner is probably more important for dentists than for other practitioners because patients will be so apprehensive. My dentist has it. He's liberal with the anaesthetic, too, and that helps.

February 28, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The verification gods have a sense of humor.

I have read that dentists have a high suicide rate. Norman, though, is a jovial sort who likes reading crime novels, watching cricket, and taking visitors for rambles over the moors. I don't think dentistry came up at any time during my visit.

Good god, you've met quite a pack of dentists in your time. My odd experience with nitrous oxide was that I could feel pain during the dental procedure, but I didn't care because the pain was happening to someone else. I have never felt compelled to repeat the experience, but it was memorable.

February 28, 2010  
Blogger Philip said...

That is Norman all right, Peter, but he is also a compassionate man, very sensitive to the travails of others, and it is dentists with those traits -- and I have one now -- I think might feel the stress of the profession rather more than would Dr Szell(Dustin Hoffman's dentist Dr Szell, not the conductor Dr Szell, although he was well-known for torturing the occasional note-cracking horn player or tardy timpanist).

February 28, 2010  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter, this teeth business is all very but if I could move the discussion to a slightly more interesting body part, I thought the recent case of the young woman who was identified by the serial number of her breast implants was interesting.

I wonder if any crime writer anticipated that and if not, how long will it be before it turns up in someone's book.

February 28, 2010  
Blogger Mysti Lou said...

peter, very cool article, thanks.

I was surprised they left out pelvis when discussing Skull separate from bones. Race & gender are tricky things, and relative width of pelvis m. vs. f. differs for Asian people (statistically speaking)...anyway cool list, and feet surprised me!

February 28, 2010  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Breast implants! Sorry out of my depth there.
But as far as orthodontic treatment the teeth are regular [hence North American] and the first tooth on the lower arch on the right of the Xray might be a mandibular canine, it is difficult to tell for sure. Which would mean the lower first premolar [bicuspid to North Americans] might have been extracted for orthodontic reasons.
Nitrous Oxide sniffing used to be fairly common. The cyanide capsule in the teeth I think was used by secret agents during the war.
The suicide rate in the UK I think used to be third behind farmers and vets. But as the NHS fees went up shortly after I retired dentists might be happier now, although large numbers in the UK are Swedes who do have a history of topping the suicide league.
The thought of Peter leaving his wallet in the dentist's office is almost enough to bring me out of retirement. ;o)

March 01, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That is Norman all right, Peter, but he is also a compassionate man, very sensitive to the travails of others, and it is dentists with those traits -- and I have one now -- I think might feel the stress of the profession rather more than would Dr Szell(Dustin Hoffman's dentist Dr Szell, not the conductor Dr Szell, although he was well-known for torturing the occasional note-cracking horn player or tardy timpanist).

Here in Philadelphia, one of our recent music directors was not universally beloved by the players. I also have a musician friend here who comes from Cleveland. I can ask him for some good Szell stories. And I met Norman only after he had retired. Perhaps he was an ill-tempered cuss when he was practising.

March 01, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Peter, this teeth business is all very but if I could move the discussion to a slightly more interesting body part, I thought the recent case of the young woman who was identified by the serial number of her breast implants was interesting.

I read of such a case, but I can't remember if it was in a newspaper or a crime novel. And who knows? Just as the gun with a serial number filed, etched or acided off is a staple of crime stories, so perhaps will be the crooked surgeon who effaces serial numbers from breast implants.

March 01, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Uriah, I was probably 15 years old at the time and so would have had little of value in my wallet.

The capsule in the tooth surprised me because such a device would have required surgery plus a dental implant with a compartment easily opened should the need arise but difficult to open inadvertently . One could not have spies accidentally dropping dead all over the place while brushing their teeth, for example. The Richard Stark character is indeed a spy, or rather a diplomat from a sinister nation.

I should have asked my dentist about the likelihood of such a device, not that I would want one. I will again have the opportunity to ask him in six months.

March 01, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Mysti L., a friend of mine was also surprised that the pelvis was not included. I know that width of the pelvis is a frequent clue to the sex of a body, at least in fiction. I think the list concentrated on features that can identify an individual and not just help investigators determine sex.

Yes, a cool list. One wonders whether scientific and technological advances will add to the eight body parts.

March 01, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That should be "clues to the sex of a skeleton," of course, though it feels odd to speak of the sex of a skeleton.

March 01, 2010  
Blogger Lee Ee Leen said...

Point number 6 surprised me- we tend to forget that implants have serial numbers.

March 02, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

We tend to forget, or else we never knew in the first place. I read in conjunction with this post that putting serial numbers on implants is a relatively recent practice.

March 02, 2010  

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