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Dr. Marianne Schaefer Forensic dentist Dr. Marianne Schaefer is very much like a detective who searches for clues in dental work. (Photo courtesy of Mary Jane Photography) She finds truth hidden in the tooth Like a detective, Dr. Marianne Schaefer helps identify unidentified bodies by looking at their teeth. She is a forensic dentist who is a member of the Cook County Medical Examiners Disaster Response Team. She is called in when circumstances require. Schaefer began her career as a regular dentist. In fact, she also continues her 20-year-old private practice. But during her dental training, she had the opportunity to work with one of her professors on the John Gacy case. The professor helped identify bodies Gacy had buried in his basement. We invited you to ask Dr. Marianne Schaefer any questions you might have about her job and her experiences as a forensic dentist. She answers them here. What does a dead person’s mouth smell like? —Jason Kehoe I suppose it depends on the state of the decomposition of the person. Can you tell if a person is male or female just from their teeth? —Cyndi Kehoe Yes and no. There are many “female” or “male” characteristics of teeth but sex determination is frequently made by reviewing differences in the skull and skeletal remains. What if the person wore dentures? Is there any way you are able to identify them from the wear and tear on their jaw line? —Lauren DeBarsh A law exists that requires dental laboratories to inscribe names into dentures. And although the identification of an edentulous mouth might be harder to do, the availability of bone patterns in antemortem and postmortem x-rays makes the identification of toothless individuals possible. Do teeth burn? Yes, teeth will be destroyed by heat if the temperatures are high enough. This occurs rarely, however since the temperature around the teeth must exceed 1000F. The teeth are protected by the soft tissue of cheeks, lips and tongue. Materials used for dental restoration are also resistant to destruction. Materials used for dental restoration are also resistant to destruction. Fillings generally can withstand high temperatures exceeding 1600F. I always watch those Forensic Detective shows on cable. I’ve always wondered…with something like the Gacy case where it was a mass murder and you had a number of skulls, how do you figure out which teeth go to who? —J.E.R. In that particular case, the forensic odontologist found it particularly difficult to work because the bodies were stacked one on top of another, leading to co-mingling remains. Dentists and anthropologists worked long and hard hours to bring closure for the families. In most cases, the teeth remained positioned in the jaw, which made the portion of the identification easier then working on mass disasters in which not only are the remains co-mingled, bat jaws can be fractured and teeth avulsed. How fast do teeth decompose? Do they ever decompose? —burt w. in P.A. As evidenced by exhumed, mummified bodies, bones and teeth are extremely resistant to decomposition. This is why they are used in forensics and anthropology. The environment determines the amount of decomposition. Why do you think people are so scared of going to the dentist? —Debbie People are fully conscious during dental procedures and must allow another person, who is a stranger to invade their personal space, doing a procedure that has the potential to be painful. It has been my experience that this “giving over of power” is what patients fear the most. Does each mouth have a distinct ‘fingerprint’ or can siblings or a parent and child have nearly the same teeth? —sam i am There are subtle differences that can distinguish the teeth between even highly similar family members. However, at a time in which orthodontics is readily available and decay is less prevalent, some forensicists feel that identification may become more difficult. My teenager son has two yellow front teeth. How safe is bleaching? How long will it last? —Melona There are many types of bleaching procedures.
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Provides follow-up as needed
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Dr. Schaefer's Rating
1 Review
Patient Perspective
5.0 Explains conditions and treatments
5.0 Takes time to answer my questions
5.0 Provides follow-up as needed
Office Rating
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4801 W Peterson Ave Ste 502, Chicago, IL, 60646
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5.0Office cleanliness
5.0 Courteous staff
5.0 Scheduling flexibility
4801 W Peterson Ave Ste 502
Chicago, IL, 60646
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"I have been going to Dr. Schaeffer for about. the past 20 years, as well as now my children & grandchildren! Being I was more fearful of a dentist than my grandchildren, I am confident that even tho the sound of the drill installs fear in every human, she is thoughtful, gentle & sooo patient when taking the time to calm your fears ….Thank You Dr. Schaefer! "
  • October 4, 2021


4801 W Peterson Ave Ste 502


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