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Crime Scene Investigator Network Newsletter

APRIL 2023

Welcome to the April 2023 Crime Scene Investigator Network Newsletter

Forensic Bitemark Analysis
Not Supported by Sufficient Data

Bitemark Analysis: A NIST Scientific Foundation Review
National Institute of Standards and Technology


This report summarizes a review of the scientific foundations of bitemark analysis conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Bitemark analysis typically involves examining patterned injuries left on a victim or object at a crime scene, recognizing those injuries as bitemarks, and comparing those marks with dental impressions from a person of interest. This review specifically focuses on pattern injuries found on human skin. Over 400 sources were considered via literature searches and input from previous efforts by the National Institute of Justice Forensic Technology Center of Excellence. Our NIST review also utilized input from an October 2019 Bitemark Thinkshop organized by the Center for Statistics and Applications in Forensic Evidence (CSAFE) where experts and stakeholders associated with bitemark analysis were convened to discuss key issues. Based on this input, our study found a lack of support for three key premises of the field: 1) human dentition is unique at the individual level, 2) this uniqueness can be accurately transferred to human skin, and 3) identifying characteristics can be accurately captured and interpreted by analysis techniques. Furthermore, our review noted a lack of consensus among practitioners on the interpretation of bitemark data as well as thoughts on how to move the field forward. If the field seeks to advance, the key takeaways provided in this review are starting points for areas needing improvement, not an exhaustive list of specific shortcomings.

Key takeaways

Key takeaways identified as part of this foundation study include the following:

  • Forensic bitemark analysis lacks a sufficient scientific foundation because the three key premises of the field are not supported by the data. First, human anterior dental patterns have not been shown to be unique at the individual level. Second, those patterns are not accurately transferred to human skin consistently. Third, it has not been shown that defining characteristics of that pattern can be accurately analyzed to exclude or not exclude individuals as the source of a bitemark.
  • The entire human dentition is not represented in a bitemark. Bitemark patterns typically only represent the anterior teeth and thus not the full possible dentition of an individual, limiting the amount of information available for an analysis.
  • There is a lack of research into population frequencies, specific identifying characteristics, and measurements that support the notion that human anterior dental patterns as reflected in bitemarks are unique to individuals.
  • Accurate transference of an anterior dentition pattern in the form of a bitemark on human skin can be limited by distortions caused by skin elasticity, unevenness of the biting surface, location of the bite, and movement of the biter and/or victim during the biting event.
  • Comparisons between bitemark patterns made on skin, for example multiple bitemarks from the same individual on the same victim, have shown that there exists intra-individual variation in bitemark morphology on the human body such that bitemarks from the same biter may not appear consistent.
  • Bitemarks in cadaver-based research studies are representative of highly controlled experimental conditions and these results may overestimate the accuracy of analysis methods. Bitemarks in actual cases, where controlled conditions are not present, are prone to higher levels of inaccuracy.
  • As reflected in research studies to date, bitemark examiners may not agree on the interpretation of a specific bitemark, including whether the injury is a bitemark, the features present, and the exclusion or non-exclusion of potential biters.
  • Repeated calls for additional data by critics and practitioners (since at least 1960) suggest insufficient support for the accurate use of bitemark analysis and a lack of consensus from the community on a way forward.

< read the complete report >

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