Dental News

Forensic dentists identify victims of California wildfires.

November 29, 2018

California’s 2018 wildfire season continues to take its toll as officials search for missing residents in the aftermath of the Camp Fire, the deadliest wildfire in California’s history.

The Camp Fire, named after Camp Creek Road where the first flames were reported, has now claimed over 80 lives.

A recent article published in The New York Times follows the efforts of search teams comprised of anthropologists, volunteers, and specially trained dogs tasked with discovering remains that may offer valuable clues in the task of identifying victims.

Bodies burned beyond recognition are evaluated by dentists with expertise in forensic odontology, a method that attempts to match dental records with human remains.

California State Assembly member and dentist Dr. Jim Wood was one of the specialists called on to identify victims of the Camp Fire. In order to accomplish this important task, he first had to obtain as many dental records as possible from the surrounding area’s dental offices.

According to Dr. Wood, “The trick is getting the records,” as some of the dental offices may have been affected or even destroyed in the fires, which often leave little to no trace for identification beyond skeletal remains. The more dental records Dr. Wood and his team can get their hands on, the more likely they will be able to identify victims and give families a sense of closure—all the more pressing considering that there are still over a hundred missing persons from the affected community.