Forensic Dentist Helps Put The Bite On Crime

Judy Kramer
County Reporter
Dr. Eric Wilson, Cole Camp’s only practicing dentist, is often called away from his office to assist medical examiners in various municipalities with forensic dentistry. Instead of filling teeth, and providing crowns, bridges and implants, Dr. Wilson’s time in a morgue is devoted to identifying remains of those who have no identity or only a tentative identity.   He performs careful dental charting supported by radiographic images, comparing it to dental records provided by clinics or hospitals, if they are available. If a possible identity is not available, then the dental charting information is stored for future comparison to any new information that might be obtained.
This grim, but rewarding sideline to Dr. Wilson’s career, began in 1994 when he went through the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, in Bethesda, Maryland. His interest in the field led to him being deployed by Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Teams (DMOT) to help identify 9/11 victims in New York City. The victims that could not be identified visually or by paper such as a driver’s license, were sent to the dental examiner’s station for forensic dentistry. He was at ground 0, but spent most of the time in the Chief Medical Examiner of NYC’s office.
Right after 9/11, in 2002, Dr. Wilson became involved with the American Society of Forensic Odontology, and is now a past president. Through this organization, he has been called to various medical examiner offices to assist with identification of victims of an air line crash in Kirksville, Missouri; Hurricane Katrina; Hurricane Ike; the Joplin tornado; and the 2017 Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
“When we (forensic dentists) show up at a place, things are pretty bad, and it is hard to say ‘no’ to a call,” said Dr. Wilson. “It means that the local area is not able to handle the situation. Typically the local authorities don’t have the means to deal with a large number of bodies.”
Dr. Wilson said that he is not required to respond to calls for forensic dentistry assistance, but he knows that he is needed, and he wants to help, even though his private dental practice has to do without him. He said that he is required to take training every year, and is involved in training other dentists annually in a continuing education course in his position as Director of Missouri Emergency Response Identification Teams (MERIT). 
“I get calls from medical examiner offices (sometimes more than I need), and responding to them helps bring closure to families who might not otherwise get it. It is also very interesting,” said Dr. Wilson. “Sometimes an attorney will call me to testify for the prosecution or defense.  I do a little bit of everything in this forensic job. It is difficult, but I meet some pretty special people and I am lucky to work with them. It makes what I do much easier. It is hard to remain positive, but you can when you work with them.”
Dr. Wilson has 28 years of dental experience. He earned his undergraduate degree from Kansas State University and his Doctor of Dental Surgery from University of Missouri-Kansas City. In 2013 he became one of only 80 plus forensic dentists worldwide to be certified by the American Board of Forensic Odontology (ABFO). And, he is now on its board of directors. He is also a member of the Missouri Dental Association and the American Dental Association. He has a private dental practice in Cole Camp and Sedalia and serves patients from places like California, Warrensburg and Marshall.
He has lived in the in the local area since 1991, likes the area and the people. He enjoys the outdoors and traveling with his wife.