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International Poster Journal of Dentistry and Oral Medicine



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Int Poster J Dent Oral Med 6 (2004), No. 1     15. Mar. 2004

Int Poster J Dent Oral Med 2004, Vol 6 No 01, Poster 213

The effects of high temperatures on human teeth and dentures

Conclusions regarding the degree on destruction and the influence of time

Language: English

Dr. med. Dr. med. dent. Klaus Rötzscher, Chairman German Association of Forensic Odonto-Stomatology
Dr. med. Dr. med. dent. Claus Grundmann, Moers
Dr. med. dent. Sven Benthaus, Oberhausen
Arbeitskreis für Forensische Odonto-Stomatologie

September, 27-28th, 2001
XIème Congrès de l'A.F.I.O., l'Amphithéâtre du Musée des Beaux Arts d'Orleans


The identification of burned bodies correlates with an adequate quality and quantity of traces. This needs every effort by the rescue teams, the investigators, i.e. police, fire-fighters, forensic medicines and dentists at the place of the event. Dental photography, radiography and morphological methods to stabilize and save the fragile human skull are described.


The purpose of this study was to examine the resistance of teeth and restorative materials to high temperatures and for forensic identification purposes (Benthaus and Teige 1998, Grundmann and Rötzscher 2000, Günther and Schmidt 1953, Rötzscher 2000, Roussow et al. 1999, Yamamoto et al. 1990).

Material and Methods

Five samples of teeth and four samples of dental materials were heated at the following temperatures (Table 1a and b):

Time (in min) Temperature Effects
5 400 Extreme longitudinally fissures in the crown of the front teeth with partial loss of continuity and black glowing plaque "metal shine".
15 400 Black "charcoal grey" of the extremely destroyed front teeth. Enamel slack, though invisible carbonization. Exposed dentinum splinter. Amalgam fillings blistered, still in the cavity.
30 400 Front teeth totally destroyed. Enamel broken, carbonized. Dentinum black coloured (carbonized), changing to white colour. Molars show only some fissures. Amalgam still in the cavity. Rests of the pulp. White ash in the cavum dentis.
60 400 Deep longitudinally fissures in the root. Spongiosa more dark than the compacta. Teeth not more in the alveole or broken at the collum dentis. Enamel "like thimble" removable.
45-70 1000-1100 Teeth totally carbonized. Cement fillings hard, visible in the ash. Amalgam amalgamize gold fillings. Silver and silver amalgam: small bullets. Phosphat cement fillings dazzling white.
Table 1a: Time (in minutes), Temperature (in °Celsius), Effects (Günther and Schmidt 1953)

Material Time (in minutes)
  8-10 13-16 20-25 45-75
Temporary fillings fallen out of the front teeth not to be found in general - -
Cemet fillings constant fallen out of the front teeth in side teeth constant white and hard in the ash
Amalgam traces of mercury in front teeth Ag-, Au-amalgam constant in molars, Cu-amalgam yellow-brown not to be found in general -
Castin materials loosening in the cavity fallen out of the front teeth fallen out in general metal bullets in the ash
Metal crowns - Au red coloured, Ag-Pd yellow-red coloured rest of enamel at the margin, solder separated, Ag-Pd rough and dark grey Au "bullets", Ag-Pd intact
Ceramic-crowns burst or displaced burst, teeth intact - solid crowns resp. facettes intact
Acrylic restaurations front teeth burned teeth until praemolars burned, anterior parts of dentures burned - total burned
Table 1b: Effects by post-mortal temperatures on dentures (1000°-1100° Celsius) (Günther and Schmidt 1953).

0 no damages
1 front teeth damaged (one or both jaws)
2 front and side teeth damaged, unilateral (one or both jaws)
3 front and side teeth damaged, bilateral (one or both jaws)
4 fragments of teh jaws, the teeth and/or roots included, remain
5 no teeth remain
Table 2. Degrees on destruction on human teeth by temperature (6 categories) (Andersen et al. 1995)

Sample 1

Fig. 1 Fragments of the jaws. The teeth and roots included, remain (degree 4). Front teeth are partial destroyed. Enamel broken, carbonized. Dentinum black coloured (carbonized), changing to white colour. Molars show only some fissures. Rests of the pulp. White ash in the cavum dentis (30 min, 400° Celsius). Fig. 2 Prepared skull (diagram) (Benthaus and Teige 1998).

Fig. 3 The radiological technique (diagram) (Benthaus and Teige 1998). Fig. 4 The dissected lower jaw (pantomography) (Benthaus and Teige 1998).

Sample 2

Fig. 5 The skull of a 40-years old man, (burned in his flat). The front teeth of both jaws are damaged (degree 1). Black "harcoal grey" of the extremely destroyed front teeth (15 min, 400° Celsius) (Grundmann and Rötzscher 2000). Fig. 6 View of the lower jaw after removal (left side) (Grundmann and Rötzscher 2000).

Sample 3

Fig. 7 The lower jaw of a 40 years old man (burned in his car on a highway). After removal (Grundmann and Rötzscher 2000). Fig. 8 The lower jaw. After maceration (Grundmann and Rötzscher 2000). No destruction on teeth by temperature (degree 0).


The expertness leads to conclusions regarding the degree on destruction of teeth to the influence of temperature and time. Combinations of dental restorations are as unique as fingerprints and their radiographic morphology as well as the types of filling materials used are often the main features in identification. Gold, silver amalgam and silicate fillings have varying resistances to high temperatures and are often unaffected even after prolonged exposure to fire.

Discussion and Conclusions

Positive identification of burned bodies by dental radiological and morphological methods is possible after stabilizing and saving the fragile human skull. The degrees on destruction are transferred to the P-M-DVI-Form (pink) together with the information where the victim (house, car, boat, aeroplane, train etc.) was found at the time of the event.


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  • Benthaus S, Teige K (1998) Ist die Identifikation stark verbrannter Leichen aussichtslos? Arch Kriminol 201, ½: 31-38
  • Grundmann C, Rötzscher K (2000) Autopsy techniques in the orofacial area and maceration using Enzyrim. J Forensic Odontostomatol, Vol 18, No.1: 19-21
  • Günther H, Schmidt O (1953) Die Zerstörung des menschlichen Gebisses im Verlaufe der Einwirkung hoher Temperaturen. Dtsch Z ges gerichtl Med 42: 180-188
  • Rötzscher K (2000) Forensische Zahnmedizin, Kap. Identifikation, 3.1.Thermische Einflüsse. Springer Heidelberg Berlin, S. 155-156
  • Roussow RJ, Gröbler SR, Phillips VM, Kotze van W, TJ (1999) The effects of extreme temperatures on composite, compomer and ionomer restorations. J Forensic Odontostomatol Vol 17, No. 1: 1-4
  • Yamamoto K, Ohtani S, Kato S, Sugimoto H, Miake K, Nakamura T (1990) Morphological changes in human and animal enamel roots with heading-especially limits in temperature allowing discrimination between human and animal teeth. Bull Kanagawa Dent Coll 18(1): 55-61


P-M-DVI-Form = Post-mortem-Disaster-Victim-Identification-Form

This Poster was submitted by Dr. med. Dr. med. dent. Klaus Rötzscher.

Correspondence address:
Dr. med. Dr. med. dent. Klaus Rötzscher
Wimphelingstraße 7
67346 Speyer/Rhein