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DENTIST: NATIONAL STANDARD FOR RECORDS NEEDED

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March 4, 2002 – St. Thomas dentist Susan Anderson is preparing to propose a the adoption of a national standard for dental records — and she would be happy to see it eventually become an international standard, as well.
Anderson has formed her recommendations after spending more than five months identifying remains retrieved from the World Trade Center in New York. Much of the work was done by matching victims' dental patterns with their most recent dental records.
As a result of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, "there are a lot of people now who realize how dental records are charted, the importance of dental records themselves in identification, and that it's time for us to be thinking about universal standards," she said.
Inconsistencies in record keeping made it tough for forensic teams working in the morgue at Ground Zero, Anderson said. In some cases, she said, five and six records had to be compared in order to see which one offered the best guess on a victim's identity. For victims from other countries, the situation was even worse, since the dental numbering systems don't match those in use in the United States.
Anderson shared a dental practice on St. Thomas up until two years ago, when an interest in forensic dentistry led her to post-graduate study in the field. Although she is still a part-time St. Thomas resident, she holds appointment as the deputy coroner of Lycoming County in north-central Pennsylvania.
While working in New York, as she read records submitted by families searching for their loved ones, she found differences in notations for the same kinds of dental work. And sometimes just reading handwriting was a problem. "The written daily record that tells what work has been done should be legible and readable by anybody," she said.
Anderson and a team of colleagues are planning to present a paper proposing new national charting standards at a conference of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences next year. The new system, she said, would be based on the one now used by the U.S. military.

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