The role of forensic medicine and forensic dentistry in estimating the chronological age of living individuals in Hamburg, Germany

Int J Legal Med. 2017 Mar;131(2):593-601. doi: 10.1007/s00414-016-1517-y. Epub 2016 Dec 28.


Age estimation represents one of the primary responsibilities of forensic medicine and forensic dentistry. It is an integral procedure aiming to estimate the chronological age of an individual, whose age is either unknown or doubtful, by means of assessing the stage of dental, skeletal, and physical development. The present publication reviews the methods and procedures used in estimating the age of young living individuals as well as the experiences of the Institute of Legal Medicine in Hamburg-Eppendorf, Germany, during the last 25 years. From 1990 to 2015, 4223 age estimations were carried out in Hamburg. During this time, forensic age estimation was requested by different concerned authorities including courts, the foreigners' registration office (Zentrale Ausländerbehörde), and the state office of education and consultation (Landesbetrieb Erziehung und Beratung). In the context of judicial proceedings, orthopantomograms, as well as X-ray examinations of both the left hand and the medial clavicular epiphyses were carried out in accordance with AGFAD recommendations. For investigations not associated with judicial proceedings, orthopantomogram examinations play a key role in the process of age estimation, due to their high diagnostic value and low radiation exposure. Since 2009, mainly unaccompanied young refugees were examined for age estimation. Orthopantomograms and clinical-physical examinations have been used as essential steps in this context to determine whether an individual is 18 years or less. Additional X-ray examinations of the left hand and the medial clavicular epiphyses have been used less frequently.

Keywords: AGFAD recommendations; Forensic age assessment; Hamburg model; Institute of Legal Medicine Hamburg- Eppendorf.

MeSH terms

  • Age Determination by Skeleton*
  • Age Determination by Teeth*
  • Clavicle / diagnostic imaging
  • Clavicle / growth & development
  • Epiphyses / diagnostic imaging
  • Epiphyses / growth & development
  • Forensic Anthropology
  • Forensic Dentistry
  • Germany
  • Hand Bones / diagnostic imaging
  • Hand Bones / growth & development
  • Humans
  • Radiography, Panoramic
  • Refugees / statistics & numerical data*