to choose from in comparing the evidence. Bite marks often are associated with highly sensationalized and prejudicial cases, and there can be a great deal of pressure on the examining expert to match a bite mark to a suspect. Blind comparisons and the use of a second expert are not widely used.

Scientific Interpretation and Reporting of Results

The ABFO has issued guidelines for reporting bite mark comparisons, including the use of terminology for conclusion levels, but there is no incentive or requirement that these guidelines be used in the criminal justice system. Testimony of experts generally is based on their experience and their particular method of analysis of the bite mark. Some convictions based mainly on testimony by experts indicating the identification of an individual based on a bite mark have been overturned as a result of the provision of compelling evidence to the contrary (usually DNA evidence).126

More research is needed to confirm the fundamental basis for the science of bite mark comparison. Although forensic odontologists understand the anatomy of teeth and the mechanics of biting and can retrieve sufficient information from bite marks on skin to assist in criminal investigations and provide testimony at criminal trials, the scientific basis is insufficient to conclude that bite mark comparisons can result in a conclusive match. In fact, one of the standards of the ABFO for bite mark terminology is that, “Terms assuring unconditional identification of a perpetrator , or without doubt, are not sanctioned as a final conclusion.”127

Some of the basic problems inherent in bite mark analysis and interpretation are as follows:

  1. The uniqueness of the human dentition has not been scientifically established.128

  2. The ability of the dentition, if unique, to transfer a unique pattern to human skin and the ability of the skin to maintain that uniqueness has not been scientifically established.129

    1. The ability to analyze and interpret the scope or extent of distortion of bite mark patterns on human skin has not been demonstrated.

    2. The effect of distortion on different comparison techniques is not fully understood and therefore has not been quantified.


Bowers, op. cit.


American Board of Forensic Odontology, op. cit.


Senn, op. cit.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement