A study to determine the forensic quality of records and record keeping by dentists in the greater Cape Town area
Opperman, Johan Frank
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South African dentists have a legal and ethical obligation to maintain complete and comprehensive dental records. In addition to the legal and ethical requirements, dental records are also important in the case of medico-legal issues, quality assurance processes and forensic purposes. Valuable forensic evidence contained in dental records are used in the identification of victims of mass disasters, personal victim identification e.g. in severely decomposed or skeletonized remains where DNA or other biometric data are not available. The victim identification process is highly dependent on complete, legible and accurate dental records. A review of the literature however shows that dental record keeping practices are sub-optimal worldwide. There is a paucity of studies in South Africa regards to dental record keeping practices. The aim of this study was to assess the record keeping practices of a sample of private practicing dentists in Cape Town and surrounding towns, for forensic dental purposes. Knowledge and awareness regards to forensic odontology as well as adherence to the guidelines prescribed by the Health Professional Council of South Africa were also assessed. This was a cross-sectional descriptive study, employing a researcher-administered questionnaire and a dental checklist for forensic valuable items in the dental file. The results were entered in a MS Excel spreadsheet and statistically analysed using IMB SPSS Statistics. This study concluded that most of the dental records kept by Cape Town dentists are near to optimal and would be helpful during forensic odontology investigations. However, shortcomings in record keeping practices exists which may compromise the forensic accuracy of their dental records. The study also shows a significant difference in dental record keeping practices by dentists practicing in lower income areas in Cape Town, compared to those practicing in economic affluent areas. The dentists in this study adhered to most of the guidelines prescribed by the Health Professional Council of South Africa however, important medico-legal information was missing from most dental records. This study hopes to contribute to future comprehensive studies in the broader South Africa to determine the validity of dental records for forensic odontology purposes.