Forensics: Unscientific, biased and exaggerated dental ageing in use by dentists hired by ICE

Image result for quack dentists

The subject of using the highly variable shapes of wisdom teeth to age asylum seeking immigrants claiming to be minors has been a recent topic of investigative reporters in the US and elsewhere in the world.

  • Here’s how ICE sent children seeking asylum to adult detention centers. Reveal
  • Migrant minor is held in adult detention facility for nearly a year after dental exam found he was likely 18. Los Angeles Times
  • Immigration agents X-raying migrants to determine age isn’t just illegal, it’s a misuse of science. The Conversation. 
  • Can dental X-rays determine a refugee’s age? The Independent


These articles describe the methods adopted by some dentists in writing reports for immigration authorities as being:

  • Professor of medical statistics at the Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, Tim Cole, told the BBC these tests were “very inaccurate,” saying: “If you test children around the age of 18, or three years either side, in this way, the results get one third of the ages wrong.”
  • “The use of radiological assessment is extremely imprecise and can only give an estimate of within two years in either direction and the use of ionising radiation for this purpose is inappropriate. If not done for medical purposes it can be potentially dangerous for a child to undergo these X-rays.”
  • “In our experience, children as young as 14 are often incorrectly assessed as adults, and this can lead to serious repercussions, including children being placed in facilities with adults, in detention and in some cases going missing.”


Onto a real case from California:

I have been contacted by pro bono immigration legal defense projects whose clients claims of being younger than 18 at the time of entering the US are being rebutted by ICE-hired dentists.

The common thread in most of the dental reports generated and produced to courts by ICE  are scientifically inaccurate, show one-sided assumptions,  use the wrong population data, exaggerate and sometimes are a complete lie. Among these is this redacted set of dental x-rays from a dentist in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. His ICE report stated this client had a high probability of being over the age of 18.

The x-rays do not even show the roots of the client’s wisdom teeth.


About csidds

Dr. Michael Bowers is a long time forensic consultant in the US and international court systems.
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