Uniform dental records eyed for disaster victim ID

JIJI

A team led by the Niigata Dental Association is working to standardize dental records for use in identifying bodies in such situations as large-scale disasters.

The association plans to boost the efficiency of body identification and accelerate related procedures by using an optical mark recognition sheet with 26 check items, including past dental treatment, so that computers can collate such data.

As part of a project by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, the team aims to create a national standard for dental records.

According to the association, dental records were more helpful than other methods, such as DNA analysis or fingerprint matching, in identifying badly damaged bodies after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in the Tohoku region.

The introduction of software that can compare data from teeth with existing dental records has made successful identifications through this method possible, the association said.

The actual work in Tohoku, however, was difficult because different standards were used in recording data from the teeth of corpses and for dental charts, which vary by prefecture and even by dental clinic.

“We needed to make efforts to adjust the formats,” said Nobutaka Kitamura, 54, a dentist who helped with autopsies in Tohoku.

Takafumi Aoki, 48, vice president of Tohoku University who was involved in the development of the data-collating software, said it is necessary to create a standard that can be accepted widely, like the Joint Photographic Experts Group, or JPEG, digital image format.

The optical mark recognition sheet is designed to be easy to fill in by hand or by computer and can record details such as fillings and lost tooth parts.

Dentist Eiko Kosuge, 42, jointly proposed the method with Aoki. Her father worked on body identification by dental data after a Japan Airlines jumbo jet crash in 1985 that claimed 520 lives.

In tests with information provided by 1,763 patients from 37 clinics in Niigata, the team found that the method enabled computers to narrow down the number of possible matches to 25. The tests assumed altered patient data as those of the dead.

By adding other information, such as gender, computers can come closer to exact identification, according to the association.

The team is also testing the method using data on about 14,000 patients at clinics and hospitals kept for medical expense documentation.

In addition, the team plans to take into account Interpol’s format, which is far more detailed, to prepare for the identification of foreigners’ bodies.