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Dentists Launch Nationwide Program To Place Microfilm I.D. On Teeth

November 2, 1985

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ A nationwide program to glue microfilm dots to people’s teeth was announced Saturday by the American Dental Association, which hopes to ease identification of missing persons and accident victims.

The announcement spurred criticism by a company that already sells metal identification disks. Dr. Richard Elggren, principal stockholder of Exactident Inc. in Sandy, Utah, threatened a patent lawsuit against the ADA and said plastic microfilm won’t work as well as metal disks.

Ken Beacham, secretary to the dental association’s Council on Dental Practice, told the association’s annual convention the group wants to create a centralized identification system to reduce confusion when authorities attempt to learn the identities of missing or dead people. He said eight companies now sell various types of disks.

Under the ADA’s voluntary program, dentists will bond plastic microfilm dots to the upper right front molars of adults who request them or to the equivalent baby tooth in children. The task takes about 15 minutes and no anesthetic is needed.

The microfilm is about the size of a typrewritten letter ″o,″ and has a 10-digit identification number plus a telephone number.

Coroners, doctors and others who try to identify dead or missing people would use a magnifying glass to read the identification number, then call the 24-hour hotline to reach a computerized registry at dental association headquarters in Chicago.

The registry will contain the person’s name, birth date, sex, address, phone number, Social Security number and name of the person’s dentist.

Beacham said the program will start on a nationwide basis by May, after trial use of the system in Maryland beginning in February.

The microfilm will be useful in identifying abducted children, elderly or handicapped people who become disoriented and victims of accidents or foul play, said Dr. James Cottone, head of forensic dentistry at the University of Texas in San Antonio.

″All frequent flyers should have one of these put on because of the possibility of untimely death,″ said Cottone, who helped identify victims of the Delta Air Lines Flight 191 crash in Dallas in August.

Dentists will pay $10 for the disks, Beacham said, adding he expects patients will be charged $20 to $25.

Elggren argued that his firm was first in line for a patent on the process of placing identification disks on teeth.

″The free enterprise system is being jeopardized by the ADA,″ Elggren said. ″If it means going to court to determine who has the patent rights, then that’s what we’ll have to do.″

Elggren argued that resins used to glue microfilm to teeth will erode the plastic, eventually making identification numbers unreadable.

Beacham said the ADA also has a patent pending, and argued that plastic is superior to stainless steel disks because it will stretch as children’s teeth grow.

Beacham estimated that up to 50,000 people already wear identification disks made by various companies. The problem, he said, is the lack of a centralized registry and that each company uses a different identification numbering system.

The identification system is needed because the use of fluoride has significantly reduced cavities in Americans, and fillings have been the easiest way to identify bodies, Cottone said.