Bitemark Book Review

Forensic Odontology is a fascinating and challenging subject. The explosion of technological and procedural advances coupled with the general publics increased awareness through the media such as “CSI” has made forensic sciences appealing to many and seemingly infallible to others.

I have known Dr. Bowers for over twenty years. We first made acquaintance in Louisville, Kentucky in 1989 while challenging the ABFO dental certification board examination. Over these years he has earned the respect of all others in this field with his determined dedication to further forensic odontology into a respected discipline of the forensic sciences.

The second edition of “Forensic Dental Evidence: An Investigatorʼs Handbook” edited by Dr. C. Michael Bowers is written for those whose desire the knowledge, background and understanding of forensic dentistry. This book is essential reading and a valuable asset for any investigator, lawyer, medical examiner, nurse or dentist that has an interest or a role in a forensic dental case.

A highlight of this handbook is the discussion of the wrongful convictions and erroneous bitemark opinions that have surfaced in the past decade. In the early 1990s Dr. Bowers and others become cautious in the manner in which bitemark opinions were being used to identifying specific individuals in an open population. Currently there have been 10 exonerations of individuals who have served many years in prison that were falsely imprisoned as a result of faulty bitemark evidence and incorrect opinions. These opinions were not based in science and were without validity or reliability. Dr. Bowers asan impartial dental expert and DNA evidence resulted in the exoneration of these innocent individuals.

Dr. Bowers determined work in educating and informing the forensic community of the need for scientifically validated opinions in the 1990s went largely neglected by forensic dentists. In 1999 the ABFO performed a bitemark workshop to examine the ability of the expert to properly discern the biter from a lineup of unknowns. The ABFO published a paper with the results that reported the ability of the forensic dentists to identify the correct perpetrator with moderate accuracy of 86%. What was not reported was the high level of false positives that accompanied these findings. Dr. Bowers high ethical standards compelled him to uncover the actual findings that revealed this high false positive rate that was not exposed in the scientific paper published by the ABFO.

Recognizing that improvements were necessary in the forensic sciences Congress directed the National Academy of Science to study the problem. In 2009 the National Academy published a report called “Strengthening Forensic Science in the UnitedStates: A Path Forward” which was a comprehensive review of all the forensic sciences,including bitemark analysis. The findings from the report were the same as Dr. Bowers had been teaching and writing about for years. It was not until after the report was published did the dental forensic specialty group begin to acknowledge the need for change. Fortunately this process has begun and positive changes are currently being
made. This handbook relates and discusses all the problems identified by the National Academy of Science.

In this book Dr. Bowers has partnered himself with many of the worlds foremost forensic scientists and dental experts. This handbook offers the latest information available to the forensic community and beyond. It will function to advance the profession and allow justice to be served for all.