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'DNA is sexy' but dental records most useful for identifying bodies

Kerry forensic dentist Paul Keogh told us how his work can help gardaí identify victims and sometimes even the people responsible for crimes.

Image: dental records image via Shutterstock

THE FORENSIC DENTIST who helped identify the body of a German man eight years after his body was found in Connemara has said the public can often be misled about the role DNA plays.

Paul V Keogh helped gardaí identify Arno Schmitz this month using dental records, finally closing the mysterious case from 2006. Speaking to TheJournal.ie this week, he said he had first examined the man’s teeth back in 2006 and could tell straight away that his dentistry was German, even before he’s been told there was any connection to that country.

“Every country his its own unique type of dentistry,” he explained.

Keogh, who is based in Kerry is frequently called in to help gardaí with investigations, whether its a murder, a fire, a sexual assault or a road collision. Dental records would also be used in the case of a mass disaster like a tsunami or a plane crash.

With car crashes, you may have a person who can’t be identified or their injuries might preclude anyone from identifying them because they would be too upsetting. It isn’t enough if someone is carrying a wallet, say if someone has been burned up in a fire, that’s not a good enough standard, and dental records are the most useful way.

Like others who work in forensics, this Kerry dental surgeon cringes at CSI shows and how easy they make it all look.

“DNA is sexy, but DNA does not feature in most of these crimes,” he said. “Often, samples produced are poor and can’t be used. In most cases, it’s the role of the forensic dentist in co-operation with the coroner and police to do this.

A forensic dentist, on first looking at a body, can tell from their teeth a number of things like the person’s age, sex and standard of dental work, as well as where it is most likely to have been done. With just 60% of the population of Ireland attending the dentist, however, identification through this method can be difficult – and obviously impossible if the records don’t exist.

They are also called on to help with investigations into sex crimes, if the victim has been left with bite marks. Suspects will be asked to allow impressions to be taken of their mouth and this will be compared to what happened to the victim.

It’s a job that a lot of people would find tough but Keogh said “it’s interesting and you leave the grimness and the other parts of it to one side”. He also said it feels good to get a result for people and their families.

In the case of German man Arno Schmitz, his family was finally able to find closure, nine years after he went missing.

Read: Gardaí identify body of German man eight years after discovery in Galway woods>

Read: Scientists use modern forensics to find out which gory wound killed this English king>

Read: Serious criminals will have DNA logged on international database>

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