Dignity in death

Updated: Jun 25, 2018, 08:14 IST | Hemal Ashar

Italian forensics odontology expert on how the world is gradually waking up to the power of this science in managing the dead

Dignity in death
A policeman checks a migrant during a disembarkment from the Italian Coast Guard vessel 'Diciotti' at the port of Pozzallo, Sicily following a rescue operation of migrants and refugees at sea. Pic/AFP

Forensic odontology is also known as forensic dentistry and forensic dentists are involved in assisting agencies to identify human remains through the teeth. Italy's Dr Emilio Nuzzolese, forensic odontologist was in Mumbai, to talk at a symposium at the Indian Dental Association in Prabhadevi, opposite Siddhivinayak Temple, on the subject. He said, "The science is still not very well publicized, because it is highly technical. Yet, within the umbrella of humanitarian forensics like forensic pathology and forensic biology, it is forensic odontology that is the strongest." By strongest, Nuzzolese meant that at least 60 to 70 per cent of cases do get identified through forensic odontology which is a very high rate. It is also much cheaper compared to other more well-known methods like DNA matching and testing."

Dr Emilio Nuzzolese at the Indian Dental Association in Prabhadevi. Pic/Atul Kamble
Dr Emilio Nuzzolese at the Indian Dental Association in Prabhadevi. Pic/Atul Kamble

Teeth clues
Nuzzolese explained, "Large scale disasters can be burn accidents, terrorism where bomb blasts mutilate the body completely, natural disasters like tsunamis…Bodies can be identified through forensic odontology, through their teeth and given an identity and dignity in death. Doing so also brings a degree of closure for families who may have the small solace of burying the remains of their loved ones. Otherwise, families which are anyway devastated are more traumatized when they realise that loved ones who pass away may not even be identified."

Refugee crisis
Nuzzolese stressed that forensic odontology is also being used extensively, "in the current refugee crisis on Europe's borders. There are a lot of migrants from conflict countries coming in to Europe for a better life. They may pose as minors though they may not be under-18, because minors get more rights and privileges than adults, they also cannot be deported. We can see through that deception and establish their correct age through forensic odontology."

Sinking boats
This lecturer at the University of Turin adds about the refugee problem where scores escape from places like Libya, "travelling in overloaded boats in the Mediterranean to reach Europe. I worked a case where a boat sank and a lot of women and children died as a result. Along with other doctors we helped in the identification of victims through forensic odontology," he said. Nuzzolese is president/coordinator of the Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) of the Dental Team of Italia says that the world is, "waking up to the potency of odontology in better management of the dead. There is no greater dignity than being identified and subsequently laid to rest by your loved ones.

As a professional, there is no greater satisfaction than knowing one has played a part in this," finished the Bari-born (Southern Italy) Dr Nuzzolese. He then rushed to a hall full of waiting doctors waiting to hear nuggets of Nuzzolese knowledge at a symposium on the fascinating subject.

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