Rib and tooth x-rays to make age estimates more reliable

Researchers at the University of Granada (UGR) have developed a new system to determine the age of living subjects using chest and dental x-rays. The new technique could help to judge the age
of immigrant minors more reliably.

In current legal medical practice, doctors look, for instance, at the fusion of the proximal epiphysis of the clavicle – the rounded end of the collar bone – to diagnose ages of up to 21 years
or the fusion of the greater horn of the hyoid bone to determine ages over 30 years.

‘In this case, we have focused on the hyoid bone, the proximal clavicular epiphysis, the costal cartilage of the first rib, degenerative parameters of clavicle joints, certain abnormalities of
the clavicle and cortical clavicular indicators,’ explains Dr Pedro Manuel Garamendi González, who carried out the study and analysed 123 digital postero-anterior (front to back) chest
x-rays and over 740 digital orthopantomographies (panoramic scanning dental x-rays).

Findings suggest that current methods – although widely used and acknowledged by international study groups such as the Study Group on Forensic Age Diagnostics (AGFAD) in Germany – have their
limits and new research into analysis of the shoulder (acromioclavicular joints) and the ribs and sternum (sternoclavicular joints) may be necessary.

‘It is impossible to establish the age of a subject by solely looking at the greater horn of the hyoid bone because it may or may not be fused,’ the study points out. Additional criteria, on
the other hand, such as the costal cartilage of the first rib, which connects the rib to the sternum, may be more reliable. The costal cartilage has been suggested as a key factor in
determining the age of individuals over 21 years.

Due to increasing migratory flows, many European countries have experienced the arrival of more and more immigrants for whom date of birth is not officially documented. As a result, demand for
forensic age estimates has grown. Such estimates largely rely on processes of bone formation, as certain bone structures are not fully developed at birth and only fuse gradually as the
individual ages.

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