Cold cases and forensic science might make great headlines and television episodes, but Stan Kogon says the job is far less glamorous and sometimes more frustrating than portrayed in popular culture.
Kogon is not a police detective, but he helps solve missing person cases; nor is he a coroner, but he works with the dead on a regular basis. He is a forensic dentist and professor in the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at The University of Western Ontario.
London Health Sciences Centre – University Campus computer programmer Lorne Merner and forensic dentist and Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry professor Stan Kogon have developed user-friendly software to cross-reference unidentified dental remains and dental records from missing persons to find matches.
From his office tucked away in a corner of the school, Kogon is making a big splash in the world of dental identification.
Along with London Health Sciences Centre – University Campus computer programmer Lorne Merner, he has developed user-friendly software that can be used to cross-reference unidentified dental remains and dental records from missing persons to find matches.
The DIP3 software was created for mass identification of remains following a large-scale disaster. The program was also found to be useful in aiding police and coroner investigation.
As part of the Resolve Initiative, a joint partnership between the Chief Coroner for Ontario and the Ontario Provincial Police that uses the public’s assistance in identifying missing people, Kogan is given records of the unidentified teeth and the dental records of missing persons obtained by police, which he enters into his software program to search for similarities.
Kogan uses the computer software to rank the most likely matches and along with his background and expertise as a forensic dentist, he uses this information to provide advice to police.
Unlike tattoos that can fade over time or unique scarring that disappear with decomposition, teeth become the fingerprints of bodily remains, he says.
“Enamel is the hardest thing in the body … Teeth are a big part of the found human remains that are brought to the coroner’s office,” he says. “We make most of our identification not on ‘the teeth,’ but the things dentists have done to those teeth.”
A visit to the dentist to get a filling or a bridge implanted makes Kogon’s work easier. He is able to compare the record of dental work of a missing person with unidentified remains to find likely matches.
Sometimes Kogon is given fragmented dental records, which can cause difficulties in identification.
“These are not sure things, especially now that we are dealing with cases that have been missing for a long time,” he says. “All these have to be taken into consideration. That’s why it takes a dentist to look at what could have happened.”
Kogon says his job is not like the forensic scientists portrayed on the CSI television series. “I have nothing to do with the investigation.”
His role is acting as a consultant to the coroner and informing police whether they are on the right track for closing a missing person case.
Kogon fell into his position as a forensic dentist shortly after he finished graduate school at Western in 1970. He was invited to provide assistance in identifying dental remains from the Woodbridge plane crash, which killed 100 passengers and nine crew members on July 5, 1970.
He was later appointed by the Attorney General’s Office as one of four forensic dentists for the province.
DIP was the first published computerized aid to dental identification when it was developed in 1973 at Western and it has undergone three transformations since to adapt to modern computer technology. Kogon has been using DIP3 for the Resolve Initiative for less than a year.
The province has also adopted the DIP3 program for its disaster management strategy.
“Large disasters where there are people who have dental records, by far forensic dentistry is the most commonly-used method to identify people, way more common than DNA or fingerprints,” he says.
Merner, who has been working with Kogon through the latest incarnation of DIP, has made the program simplistic enough for users to be quickly trained on the software in the case of a mass disaster.
“Hopefully we never have to use it in mass disasters,” he says, adding “if it finds one person, matches one person, it is all worth it.”
For more information about the Resolve Initiative, visit www.missing-u.ca.