Dr James Hannah is a Forensic Odontologist for the military, when he is called upon, he helps identify the deceased with their dental records. His work has helped bring closure for families that have lost loved ones. There is also a civilian group of Forensic Odontologists in NZ, which also includes Lumino Clinical Advisor, Chris Brooks.
James was inspired to get into the forensic side of dentistry following the Erebus disaster that occurred in his last years at Otago Dental School. He started with the Auckland Police Coronial services immediately after graduating and although he is on case-by-case rosters, it’s his work in the Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) cases that we found most interesting. Basically, when something happens, James readies his overnight bag and drives to the airbase to be taken to the site of the event.
His first was the Fox Glacier plane crash in South Island, 2010 and a week later he attended the first Christchurch earthquake. Unfortunately, he was back in Christchurch the following year for another earthquake disaster. Listening to this, and hearing the emotion in James' voice, made it clear that these were not easy events to attend, he and his colleagues always had counselling available if they needed it.
One of the most significant forensic identifications James was involved in was the identification and repatriation of the NZDF personnel in operation Te Auraki or The Return, this was 35 soldiers buried overseas during the conflicts. James was directly involved in identifying people from Fiji, American Samoa, South Korea and the UK, who were then repatriated.
James was recently nominated for the NZDA Public Service Award, largely due to his work and involvement in the Christchurch Mosque massacre of 2019 but also due to his lifelong dedication to forensic odontology.
He is a dentist in the military, working with a team to stay on top of the bases’ oral healthcare. In the civilian world, he works alongside Dr Craig Dotchin and Dr Sarah Kelly in Dental One in Auckland on a part-time basis. He does agree that his military and civilian world overlap slightly here as a lot of his patients are the partners of his patients on base. This was not by design, more by reputation. His key phrase on this was to make friends of your patients, not patients of your friends.
Over the years he has been asked to speak at numerous conferences around the world, which was his opportunity to impart his skills and knowledge. Topics can be varied, on previous DVI events or on the developments in forensics. He was once at a conference with the author and forensic Anthropologist, Kathy Reich and was admittedly to timid to say hello.
James is currently a senior lecturer and clinical educator at AUT since 2013 and has recently been appointed as a Professional Practice Fellow at the University of Otago Dental School in Manukau.
Ami McBride, Lumino The Dentists