Parents `toothprinting' their kids -- Dental procedure collects DNA
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Parents `toothprinting' their kids -- Dental procedure collects DNA

Latest reaction to `stranger danger'

BETSY POWELL/The Toronto Star/August 24, 2004

Andrea Iro isn't taking any chances with her three children, aged 1, 2 and 4, which is why she had them fingerprinted and filled out police forms that include their photographs and personal data such as blood type, hair colour, shoe size and friends' addresses.

And now the Keswick mother plans to have her children bite into thermal plastic wafers so she'll have imprints of their teeth and the DNA in their saliva in the hope it helps police identify them should they ever go missing. Two local dentists are offering the service at a mall on two dates before children head back to school.

"With all the scary things that are happening these days, I want to take every precaution," Iro said.

The possibility of a missing child frightens every parent, but in Canada strangers rarely abduct children off the street.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police figures indicate the number of so-called stranger abductions has been declining, from 70 in 1992 to 39 last year. A stranger abduction is defined as "an abduction by an individual(s) other than the subject's parent or guardian," so those figures could include a relative, neighbour or family friend.

When Marlene Dalley, author of a December, 2003 report entitled "Abduction of Children by Strangers in Canada," studied 90 missing-children files in 2000-2001, she found there were three "stereotypical abductions" in 2000 and two in 2001 where a child was snatched by a total stranger.

"It is a rare occurrence in our country, but when it does happen it affects everybody from the West Coast to the East Coast, because parents' greatest fear ... is that they would lose their child," said Dalley, a researcher with the RCMP's National Missing Children Services.

Parental anxieties about "stranger danger" also thrive in the United States, and many are willing to respond to the perception. There, banks give out free child fingerprint cards to new customers and supermarkets have kiosks selling child identification kits.

One company is shipping a GPS "personal locator" for children ages 4 to 11. It sells for $399.99 (U.S.), plus a monthly service charge, USA Today reported recently. If the wearer is abducted or lost, he or she can contact 911 by pressing a panic button on the bracelet.

Another company engraves serial numbers into a child's teeth.

Toothprints is also a trademarked product from the U.S.

Richmond Hill dentist Jeff Glaizel loves the idea. Here's how it works: A child is asked to bite on a warm plastic wafer for 10 seconds. "The toothprint wafer now contains the child's dental impressions, as well as a sample of salivary DNA and the child's scent, which may all be used in identification of the child, if the need arises," reads a press release announcing that on Aug. 28 (9 a.m.-6 p.m.) and Sept. 2 (2 to 9 p.m.), Glaizel and his partner will be at Hillcrest Mall (9350 Yonge St.). A $5 donation to fund research at York Central Hospital will get parents their child's sample in a sealed bag.

Glaizel believes his practice is the first to offer the service in Canada and said he's doing it "to give something back to the community."

`We really need to focus on issues that in reality affect a lot of children'

Catherine Clark, SmartRisk


"The idea is, God forbid, if something ever happens to a child, the police will have one DNA sample readily available," he explained. It could be given to a scent dog for tracking a missing child, for example. "I thought this was amazing, especially coming off the Cecilia Zhang tragedy," said Glaizel. "This gives some sort of security blanket to parents."

Many blame media frenzy around cases such as Cecilia Zhang's kidnapping and slaying (though the man accused of killing her was known to the family) and Holly Jones, whose killer, Michael Briere, was convicted earlier this year, for leaving the impression there is an epidemic of child abduction.

"These media reports most often heighten national paranoia and inflate child safety concerns," Dalley wrote in her report.

Others, while not dismissing the idea of a "dental identification system," wonder if it further stokes unfounded fear.

"It's a bit of a jolt of scaring parents (into) thinking, `Oh my goodness, how at risk is my child, do I have to go get their teeth imprints?'" said Samantha Wilson, president and founder of Kidproof Canada.

The former London, Ont., police officer said yesterday, "You have to realize, yes, there is a threat, anything is possible. But will this happen and is it likely?"

She thinks news coverage pushes people to "jump on the horrible thoughts and images, and for most parents their biggest fear is their child being abducted."

Wilson receives e-mails from people all over, particularly after Cecilia Zhang was reported missing. "I have one lady who e-mails me all the time because she can't sleep at night. She's always waking up and making sure her kids are okay."

The reason child abductions attract so much attention is precisely because they are so unusual, she added.

Catherine Clark of SmartRisk, a national non-profit organization dedicated to preventing injuries and saving lives, noted that children are more likely to be hurt by other means "far, far more than they ever are to be abducted."

"Ten times as many children die in Ontario pools every year than are abducted," she said.

Across Canada in 2002, 29 children under 4 were killed in motor vehicle traffic collisions; there were 156 fatalities in the 5-to-14 age group.

"While it's important to be concerned about all elements of your child's safety, we really need to focus on issues that in reality affect a lot of children," Clark said.

Dalley suggested parents "get a box, put the child's name on it and put everything in it that you think might be helpful if the child ever did go missing medical alerts, updated photo, lock of hair, maybe a videotape and keep that in a box and hope they never have to use it."

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