Rutgers grad can tell a child was abused — by looking at his teeth
An alumnus of the Rutgers School of Dental Medicine has gotten up close and personal with victims of the most notable tragedies in New Jersey, New York and beyond.
It's his job ... or one of his many jobs — most of which stem from his early days in the field when he uncovered many signs of child abuse and neglect among a younger patient.
"You can see certain injuries that are not accidental — what we call inflicted injuries," Dr. Lawrence Dobrin told New Jersey 101.5.
After speaking with a friend — the then-sheriff of Union County — Dobrin learned how to connect with law enforcement and those involved with child protection services if he suspected a pediatric patient had been the victim of abuse.
That sparked years-worth of courses and training and eventually landed Dobrin the title of forensic dentist.
Today, beyond running a general and family practice in Roselle Park, the Tinton Falls resident serves as chief forensic dentist for New York City and a consultant to the New Jersey State Medical Examiner.
He specializes in cases of child abuse, but has been called on for his expertise to identify victims of 9/11, the World Trade Center bombing, the chopper-plane collision over the Hudson River, Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters.
"Just recently I was deployed to Puerto Rico to help out with the identification process," Dobrin said. "The work I do — it's not for the deceased. It's for the living. They're the ones who want to know if that's their loved one or not."
According to Dobrin, the "survivability" of dental evidence is "fantastic." Teeth can withstand temperatures up to 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit, he said. Dobrin can take X-rays of the deceased and, working hand in hand with law enforcement, compare them to the records of individuals who were alive at the time of their procedures.
Dobrin also teachers courses in New York and New Jersey — including at Rutgers School of Dental Medicine — on how to spot child abuse among patients, as well as how to report it.
Dobrin said dentistry is a good modality for recognizing abuse because 75 percent of injuries to children occur in the region of the head, mouth and neck.
"These are some of the factors that may be just the tip of the iceberg as to what's happening to the child," he said. "Unfortunately, every day, four to seven children are dying from child abuse and neglect, just in this country alone."
Dobrin never expected to enter the field of forensic dentistry when he opened his first practice more than 35 years ago, and the career curveball has taken an emotional toll, but he's rewarded, he says, by the thank yous from family members to whom he can provide closure, and the countless abused children who now have a knowledgeable dentist due to his role as an educator.
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.