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Dr. Mike Tabor Visits Belmont, Speaks on Forensic Dentistry

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On Friday, March 16, Belmont University hosted Mike Tabor, DDS, as a speaker for an on-going linked cohort course (LCC). For the past three years, Dr. Danielle Garrett, assistant professor of chemistry education and Dr. Linda Holt, associate dean of CLASS and associate professor of English, have participated in a LCC, linking a major chemistry course and a literature course during the spring semester. The common theme for the two courses is forensic science. Each year, through a QEP grant, they have been able to involve their students in an interesting and engaging experience, including visiting the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, bringing an interactive mystery theater production to class and inviting an author as a guest speaker.

This year, they sought out Tabor, a native Tennessean, who currently runs a local private dental practice and is involved in forensic dentistry where he uses dentistry in forensic identification. Tabor has served as the Chief Forensic Odontologist for the State Medical Examiner’s office in Nashville since 1983. In addition to his private clinical practice, he has served as President of the Tennessee Board of Dental Examiners, President of the American Board of Forensic Odontology and the Section Chair for the Odontology Section of the American Academy of Forensic Science. He also serves as a senior consultant for the Criminal Investigations Division of TBI under its Medicaid Fraud Unit. He is a nationally known speaker in his field of forensic odontology and has lectured internationally to dentists, law enforcement and death investigation officers in Australia, New Zealand and Haiti.  He has coauthored two scientific texts in addition to his creative writing.

From 2014-2017, Tabor was on faculty of the University of Tennessee College of Graduate Medicine at UT hospital as assistant professor of dentistry in Knoxville. He has authored Walk of Death, a forensic novel. His second manuscript, Out of the Darkness, has been completed and submitted for edit and publication for anticipated release. He is currently working on his third forensic novel, Grave Mistake, all three of which are based on his true case file experiences.

Tabor was invited to campus as part of a two-part event. First, he held a Q&A discussion with students in the LCC. During this discussion, Tabor addressed his thoughts about the future of forensic science, how modern forensic fiction writers have more to write about with the maturation of DNA and how the introduction of DNA has impacted our legal system and the way human bite mark cases are handled. Tabor then spoke at a convocation event for Belmont students – Taking a Bite Out of Crime: How Forensic Dentistry Helps to Solve Mysteries – where he talked about what forensic science is, the need for forensic science and several interesting cases he worked on that were solved based on forensic dentistry.

“Beyond Dr. Tabor’s amazing professional career and wealth of knowledge, I was so impressed with his enthusiasm and zeal for wanting to engage with our students,” Garrett said.  “After the event, I asked Dr. Tabor what compelled him to want to speak with college students, after all of his other speaking experiences.”  Dr. Tabor replied, “Over the years, I have had the privilege of instructing other forensic scientists, law-enforcement agents, medical examiner teams, and other dentists about the science of forensic odontology.  In those cases, I was teaching the details of the specialty I have practiced since 1983.   At this point in my career, I feel now is the time to instruct a younger group of our population that will carry the torch forward into the fascinating field of forensic science. As I looked into the young eyes of the audience at Belmont University, I really felt a strong connection with these students. I am honored to share some responsibility in helping shape their career choices.”

More than 100 students attended the convocation. Attendees were engaged, asking questions throughout the talk. Tabor even stayed after to continue discussions with several students. “We had a good number of questions from the students, more than I had been expecting. The detailed nature of the questions made it obvious that these students have a strong interest in forensic sciences,” Tabor said.

Garrett and Holt felt that Tabor provided a unique perspective not only for their students, but for the Belmont community as a whole, helping them to develop insight into the challenges of accurately and effectively analyzing and communicating scientific information in writing, to gain awareness of the realities of the use of forensic techniques in criminal investigations, and to see the possibility of unique multi-disciplinary career opportunities.

To those students interested in pursuing forensic medicine, Tabor gives the following advice. “An exciting part of forensic science is the vast diversity of specialty within the forensic team. The parent organization, the American Academy of Forensic Science continues to actively recruit young students from high school through graduate school in the many components to our field. There are also many mentors in forensic fields that are willing to share their knowledge and experience with the young scientists of today.”

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