Date of Submission


Document Type



Forensic Science


Angie Ambers, Ph.D.


Rugoscopy, Human Identification, Palatal Rugae Patterns, Intraoral Imaging, Alginate Impression Records, Postmortem Forensic Identification


Forensic sciences, Identification, Dental jurisprudence


Human identification is critical to the field of forensic science as well as in many sub-disciplines, including forensic pathology, forensic anthropology, and forensic odontology. While few widely-accepted methods of identification dominate the discipline (primarily fingerprint and dental record analysis), the study of palatal rugae patterns (rugoscopy) is an emerging tool in human identification. Some studies suggest that patterns of the palatal rugae are an individualizing characteristic among humans. While the use of rugoscopy for identification has been explored as an identifying marker in the dental and orthodontic communities, its use for forensic applications is not widely recognized. Also, while some literature is available about global populations, American studies of palatal rugae are quite limited.

In this research, multiple palatal rugae patterns were examined and classified, and attempts were undertaken to individualize the patterns observed. Using 76 images of palatal rugae patterns (including 60 images of dental casts and 16 intraoral images), the rugoscopic identity was calculated for each set of patterns and affirmed the individualizing nature of palatal rugae patterns. Additionally, a new, forensically-focused classification system was proposed using shape, length, and number of rugae as parameters. This research also investigated intraoral imaging and the creation of alginate impression records to determine the most optimal method for saving palatal rugae patterns from unidentified human remains (UHR) for further analysis. It may be concluded that palatal rugae patterns can be used for postmortem forensic identification in addition to existing methods, or as a substitute when such other methods may not be viable or available to establish human identity.