Marden Alder, D.D.S.
(left), who heads the new Center for Education and Research in Forensics,
and David Senn, D.D.S., clinical assistant professor of dental diagnostic
science, review x-rays of an individual whose identification is unknown.
addition to performing an invaluable service to law enforcement officials,
the Health Science Center’s new Center for Education and Research in
Forensics is the only place in the United States offering post-doctoral
training to forensic experts.
in the Bexar County Forensic Science Center on campus, the Dental
School’s forensic education program is now officially called the Center
for Education and Research in Forensics or CERF. Through the center, the
Health Science Center offers a master’s degree in dental diagnostic
science with an emphasis on forensics. The center also provides continuing
education programs for health care and emergency personnel who need to
know how to handle forensic dental evidence.
CERF is headed by Marden Alder, D.D.S., associate professor of dental
diagnostic science and head of the Division of Maxillofacial Radiology.
Dr. Alder and his associate, David Senn, D.D.S., clinical assistant
professor of dental diagnostic science, expect the new designation to lead
to greater national visibility and increased support of the center.
of the CERF’s work involves identifying bodies through dental records at
the request of the Bexar County medical examiner when a visual
identification is impossible. In cases where the body is badly burned or
decomposed, the forensic dentists will make an identification to spare the
family from having to view the remains.
one case, Dr. Alder recalls, a young man who was killed while hitchhiking
went unidentified for four years. The boy’s correct dental records were
finally discovered in California, and Dr. Alder was able to identify him,
much to his parents’ relief.
is a huge psychological burden for the next of kin until they can have
some closure,” said Dr. Alder. “It’s a great feeling to be able to
provide that service.”
Dr. Alder and Senn
compare a model of a crime suspect's teeth with photographs of bite marks
on the victim.
Alder and Senn also investigate sexual assault and child abuse cases in
which the victim is bitten. Using life-size photographs of the bite marks
and a transparent overlay showing the arrangement of a suspect’s teeth,
Drs. Alder and Senn check for a match. If the case goes to trial, they
testify as expert witnesses.
is quite often rewarding in that you can help get someone off the
street,” said Dr. Alder.
also gets high priority at the center. Drs. Alder and Senn recently
completed a program to train emergency room nurses how to manage and
preserve evidence from bite marks, including how to differentiate human
bites from animal bites.
example, a wound should not be washed until the forensic dentists can get
a swab of the area for possible DNA evidence from the attacker’s saliva.
gotten more calls from emergency rooms since the nursing education started
than we ever did before,” said Dr. Senn.
the request of the Bexar County medical examiner, Drs. Alder and Senn also
have trained a 45-member dental forensic victim identification team. Made
up of volunteers from the Dental School and private practice, the dentists
on the team will be called in the event of a mass disaster to identify
said Dr. Alder, the team’s services haven’t been required yet.