Releasing Dental Records of Deceased or Missing Individuals
Why are Requests for Assistance so important?
The Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario (OCC) handles about 1200 cases of unidentified human remains per year. About 250 of these individuals are positively identified using dental methods. Because of expanded capacity at the OCC’s new facility, you may have noticed a recent increase in Requests for Assistance emails.
If you have dental records that might help to confirm an identification, please contact or respond to the police or the OCC.
This is extremely important and very meaningful for the families of missing persons or others who may be the victims of crime. Please respond promptly.
What is a dentist's legal responsibility to release dental records for deceased or missing persons?
Ontario’s Personal Health Information Protection Act (PHIPA) permits the disclosure of personal health information about a deceased or missing individual in certain circumstances.
What to do
Requests for Assistance - Police
During police investigations, dental records may be requested under the Missing Persons Act to allow for comparison with unidentified human remains.
The College forwards police requests for records to members by email. If you have relevant records that can assist police, contact the investigator directly.
The police will use Form 3 or Form 4 to request patient records. If you receive a request for records using one of these forms, you must provide copies of the records specified. Dentists must also document in the patient record the specifics of the request, including a copy of the form and the type of information that was provided to the police.
Requests for Assistance – Coroner
The coroner may request dental records to identify human remains.
The Ontario Coroners Act grants coroners legal authority to seize anything they believe is reasonably necessary. It is your legal responsibility to comply and there are penalties for not cooperating.
The OCC will request complete original dental records via an Authority to Seize document, available here . The coroner will detail what information to provide.
The coroner will provide contact information and coordinate the method of transfer (electronic/hard copy) depending on location. The form is authenticated electronically, there is no original signature.
Records should be transferred to the specified location without any undue delay Dentists should discuss the method of transfer with the coroner if they have questions. A coroner may delegate their authority to police to complete seizure of dental records. All original dental records and radiographs pertaining to the deceased individual must be released to the police.
Records should NOT be sent directly to the forensic odontologist.
In the Greater Toronto Area, most postmortem examinations are completed at the Provincial Forensic Pathology Unit in Toronto. Dental records should be sent (preferably in digitized format) to FST@ontario.ca. The Forensic Unit can arrange a courier, if required, for hard copy records.
Outside of the GTA, postmortem examinations will occur at one of the Forensic Pathology Units: London, Sudbury, Kingston, Ottawa or Sault Ste Marie. Dental records should be sent to the designated administrator at these units. Dentists should contact the unit coroner if they have questions regarding protocols.
Original records will be returned once the forensic odontologist has completed their report.
Requests for records from family members
Dentists may also receive requests for deceased patients’ dental records from family members who require the information to apply for insurance benefits or settle estate matters. When a person dies, the estate trustee, executor or the person who has assumed responsibility for the administration of the estate of the deceased becomes the substitute decision-maker (SDM) and may request access to personal health information. You should confirm the status of an estate trustee by asking for:
- a copy of the will or
- a letter from the patient’s or family’s lawyer.
If there is no trustee, ask for a lawyer’s letter advising who is responsible for administration of the estate.