Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Japan: Dentist helps identify mudslide victims

After typhoon-triggered mudslides hit Tokyo’s Izu Oshima island last month, a local dentist is striving to bring victims back to their families by identifying the bodies with his forensic dentistry expertise.

The Metropolitan Police Department has dispatched coroners to the island for body identification. Records at a local dental clinic have contributed to the work.

“I can recognize my patients by looking at their teeth,” said Ayumu Okayama, who operates a dental clinic in the town of Oshima hit hard by Typhoon No. 26 in mid-October.

A native of Nerima Ward, Tokyo, the 52-year-old Okayama opened the clinic 20 years ago in the town where his grandmother lived. An average of 20 patients visit his clinic a day, and he has examined more than 5,000 people on the island so far.

On Oct. 17, a day after the mudslides occurred, Okayama was asked to help identify the body of a man. He received a phone call from the son of a patient, who had visited his clinic for treatment until September. The son asked Okayama, “As my father received treatment at your clinic, could you identify his body? ”

Okayama then went to the morgue and saw the victim’s face, which looked just how it was when the man was alive. The man still had a gentle expression on his face that he always wore.

“The victim’s family could have recognized him immediately, but I think they didn’t want to believe it was him,” Okayama said.

After conducting dental identification, he told the family, “[The victim] must be him.” The bereaved family then thanked Okayama and bowed deeply.

Two days later, Okayama carried out another dental identification on a female victim at the request of the MPD. Just by looking at her teeth, he knew the victim was one of his patients.

“Dentists have their own ways of drilling and filling, so we recognize people we’ve worked on,” he said.

After referring to his office’s dental records, it was confirmed that the victim’s teeth matched those of a patient he examined several years ago.

“Dentists should not only fix teeth, but also face their patients, even after their death,” Okayama said.

When he was a dental university student, Okayama joined a team to carry out dental identification on victims of the crash of a Japan Airlines jet in 1985 upon the request of an acquaintance who is also a dentist and went to the same university. He climbed Mt. Osutaka in Gunma Prefecture to reach the crash site, where he checked the victims’ teeth with dental records. The bodies of the victims were unrecognizable, making teeth the key to identifying the victims. Okayama said helping to identify victims of the mudslides in Oshima reminds him of his experience on Mt. Osutaka.

Six of those who were killed by the mudslides, or went missing, are his patients.

“I have been able to work as a dentist thanks to support from residents of the island,” Okayama said. “I want [the victims] to be returned to their families as soon as possible.”

Wednesday 06 November 2013


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