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Dental Coding

Information about Dental Coding

General Information:

Due to the variation that exists in antemortem dental records, it was necessary to code each of the four datasets in two different formats, one that was labeled as the “detailed” version and one referred to as the “generic” version. The information contained within the two formats of the datasets is identical with the exception of how restorations are documented. The detailed format provides specific surface information concerning the location of a restoration on any combination of the mesial, occlusal, distal, facial, or lingual surfaces (M, O, D, F, L). The generic format disregards the surface information and simply designates the tooth as restored.

Teeth that exhibit only active decay should be considered as unrestored (i.e. “virgin”) teeth and the untreated decay should be ignored. The reason for not using unrestored decay as a forensic identification tool is because the observed decay probably occurred since the last time the person visited the dentist and, as such, would not be indicated in any antemortem dental records.

All of the codes were designed to pertain to permanent teeth and all datasets were formatted to use the same coding system. If retained deciduous teeth were encountered, they were coded as though they were permanent. No consideration was given to supernumerary teeth.

Dental Codes


Code in Detailed Dataset

Code in Generic Dataset

Restoration (Anterior Teeth)

Any combination of M, D, F, L


Restoration (Posterior Teeth)

Any combination of M, O, D, F, L


Crown (Anterior teeth)



Crown (Posterior teeth)



Missing antemortem



Unrestored / Virgin



Unrestored Decay



Detailed Format:

A dataset of detailed information was constructed to record the specific locations of restorations on the tooth. The codes M, O, D, F, and L were utilized which correspond to surface designations for mesial, occlusal, distal, facial, and lingual.

Multiple restorations on a single surface (e.g., two distinct occlusal restorations on the maxillary right 1st molar) were only assigned a single code (in this case O). Furthermore, there is no differentiation between a single restoration that affects multiple surfaces and distinct restorations on different surfaces of the tooth. For example, it would be impossible to differentiate between a tooth that had two restorations, one on the occlusal surface and one on the facial surface, and a tooth that had a single restoration that was present on the occlusal surface and wrapped onto the facial surface. Both would be coded as OF.

For the posterior teeth (Universal #s 2-5, 12-15, 18-21, and 28-31) five tooth surfaces (M, O, D, F, and L) were considered for each tooth and restorations could be any combination. On the anterior teeth (Universal #s 6-11 and 22-27) only four surface codes were assigned due to the lack of a significant occlusal, or incisal, surface. For the anterior teeth any combination of M, D, F, or L surfaces could be recorded. If a restoration was present only on the incisal surface of the anterior teeth (very infrequent), it was coded as L.

Unique codes were not utilized for teeth with crowns or abutments. Posterior teeth with crowns or abutments were assigned the code MODFL, while anterior teeth were assigned the code MDFL. It is not possible to distinguish between teeth that have restorations present on all surfaces and teeth with crowns or abutments.

Missing teeth were designated by an X, regardless of whether they were replaced by prosthesis (denture or bridge) or not.  An implant would also be coded as X.

Teeth with only active caries were coded as V for “virgin.” If a tooth was both carious and filled, it was scored only in regard to the filling as this was deemed to have greater utility for forensic identification. Teeth with no decay or fillings (virgin teeth) were scored V.

Generic Format:

In the simplified datasets all filled surfaces were condensed into a single code, R, and the surface information was ignored. Similarly, teeth with crowns or abutments were coded simply as R. For example, if the detailed data showed a tooth to have a MOD restoration, this would be converted to a code of R in the generic format. The remaining codes were the same for missing, decayed, and unrestored teeth.