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By Rupsa Chakraborty | Mumbai

The city's only forensic odontologist is playing a pivotal role in helping solve homicide and sexual assault cases through dental evidence

In 2015, for the first time, the police solved a rape case - that of a 27-year-old from Powai - by using forensic dental evidence with Dr Hemlata Pandey's assistance. Pic/Suresh Karkera

Dr Hemlata Pandey, 32
Forensic Odontologist

If you are a fan of Criminal Minds, Dr Hemlata Pandey's story is going to fascinate you. She is the only forensic odontologist in the state to help the police solve cases through the analysis of dental evidence. Inside Pandey's second floor office at Parel's KEM Hospital, she sits on a chair that needs a wicker-mending job; the table, scattered with tools.

"When I was pursuing a Bachelors in Dental Surgery, there was small chapter on forensic odontology. In fact, the professor skipped it because the stream has little scope in India. But, I was fascinated," she says. After a Masters from Wales followed by a super specialisation from the Faculty of Forensic and Legal Medicine at the Royal College of Physicians of London, she returned to Mumbai. In the five years she has spent at KEM's Forensic Medicine department, she has worked on more than 35 cases.

The case of 'Doctor Death', Dr Santosh Pol from Satara district, involved the murder of six persons who he buried near his farmhouse. It was Pandey's expertise that helped the cops identify the body of Salma Shaikh, an orphan, who worked as a staff nurse in a local rural hospital, and was Pol's victim. "Since, unlike the other victims, there was no family member available to match her DNA with, we identified her through the shape of her teeth," Pandey says.

Interestingly, until KEM happened, Pandey found it tough to land a job since her specialisation is a nascent stream in India. But it has been worth the wait. "In cases of sexual assault where the police struggle to find concrete evidence, I can help by examining bite marks. From how deep they are, I can determine the level of abuse. Also, by matching the shape of the teeth with the victim's injuries, we provide evidence during court hearings," she says.

And, she did. Last year, a 45-year-old was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for raping a six-year-old girl in Jogeshwari. The only evidence available with the police was teeth marks on her body that matched his. But, a rare choice comes with its own quirky woes. Because of lack of awareness about her specialisation, Pandey says she is often advised to do something "more fruitful". But her father, a former naval officer, and her husband, have silently supported her dreams.

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