The forensic dental expert
When there is devastation, whether from human hand or natural disaster, the world often calls Dr Jane Taylor.
Forensic dentist Taylor used her expertise to help identify victims of the Bali bombing in 2002, the Boxing Day tsunami in Thailand in 2004, and the most devastating natural disaster in Australia, the Victorian bushfires of February 2009.
For Taylor, the bushfires were the most traumatic disaster of all. "It was just unbelievable that so many lives could be lost in a fire in Australia in 2009. The intensity of the fire must have been horrendous."
Taylor has seen death on an extraordinary scale, and witnessed sights she would not wish on others. But she keeps going because her work helps bring comfort to the families of the victims. "It is the families who are important in this process. It can be very upsetting, but all of us who do this sort of work fall back on the fact that we are doing something positive for them.
"They need to have confirmation of the death of their family members to start their process of trying to cope with what has happened. You realise that this is not about you, it is about other people, and you have got the skills to help them so you must get on and do it."
Forensic work has interested Taylor, a senior lecturer in oral health at the University’s Central Coast campus, since she was in high school. "I found it incredible that you can work out who someone is from their teeth. Forensics is about solving questions through science and logic, and that is why it appeals to me."
When she was studying dentistry at the University of Adelaide, she enjoyed inspirational lectures by a forensic dentist and felt she might have the mental fortitude for such work.
Taylor is now passing on her skills and training students to be dental hygienists. As a Visiting Dental Officer with the Sydney South West Area Health Service, she also regularly undertakes forensic work at the Glebe and Newcastle mortuaries.
A world-leading expert in the field of forensic dentistry, Taylor frequently speaks at international conferences. She recently submitted her PhD on the management of forensic dentistry in disasters to the University of Newcastle, and put her research into practice when she was called in to assist with the nation’s response to the bushfires in Victoria.
Australia, said Taylor, was well regarded in the field of forensic dentistry and was regularly called on for training and assistance overseas. Taylor hopes to set up a scheme with colleague Linda Wallace, an oral health lecturer, taking dental hygiene students to West Timor to gain experience. "A Central Coast church group called Coast Life raised money and built an orphanage in the village of Soe. It alerted us to the poor oral health of the children, and we saw this for ourselves in a recent visit. We could help the people and at the same time it would be a great experience for the students."