The Dual Legacy of Forensic Odontology: A Commentary by Dr. C. Michael Bowers
Forensic and dental sciences, like all aspects of modern science, evolve through periods of discovery necessitating the adaptation of beliefs and methods. This is the central theme in Dr. C. Michael Bowers’ commentary published in the Journal of the California Dental Association on May 15, 2023.
In his paper, Dr. Bowers, an adjunct assistant professor of clinical dentistry at the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry, University of Southern California, reflects on his experiences as a court-approved forensic odontologist since the mid-1980s. He discusses both the triumphs and pitfalls of forensic odontology, focusing specifically on the controversial practice of bitemark comparison “identification.”
Dr. Bowers notes that nearly a quarter of the 3,345 individuals exonerated in the United States since 1989 were wrongfully convicted due to misleading or false forensic science, including bitemark comparison. His commentary shines a light on how this technique has contributed to 34 of these judicial missteps.
However, as a testament to the self-correcting nature of science, Dr. Bowers highlights that comprehensive research and legal analyses have led to the debunking of bitemark comparisons by several scientific review agencies and legal authorities in the U.S.
“My narrative is largely autobiographical and won’t delve deeply into the extensive bitemark and legal literature,” Dr. Bowers explains. “That is a task for other contributors in this series of articles about forensic dentistry bitemark comparison practices.”
Dr. Bowers’ commentary offers a personal account of his journey from his formative years and the ensuing decades. His reflections include interactions with peers, mentors, and experienced legal witnesses, most of whom were prosecution-hired experts.
The full commentary, “The Good and Bad Legacies of Forensic Odontology,” is available in the Journal of the California Dental Association, 51:1, DOI: 10.1080/19424396.2023.2210331.